- Chest pain could be caused by a variety of medical conditions.
- Chest pain can be a symptom of a heart attack or a gallbladder issue.
- GERD or an irritated nerve could also be causing your chest pain.
- Visit INSIDER’s homepage for more stories .
Any kind of pain is unpleasant but experiencing chest pain can be particularly alarming since it could signify an issue with your heart.
Though chest pain isn’t always caused by a serious medical problem, it’s important to be aware of what this kind of pain may mean and when you may want to see a doctor.
Here are some of the most common causes of chest pain.
Keep in mind that although this list may be useful to reference, if you are experiencing any sort of chest pain you may want to seek medical attention.
Chest pain is one symptom of a heart attack
One of the most serious causes of chest pain is a heart attack, also known as a myocardial infarction. A heart attack occurs when the blood supply to the heart is blocked, often by a blood clot.
“If someone is experiencing a heart attack, they may feel a persistent, uncomfortable pressure or squeezing in the center of their chest,” Dr. Campbell Rogers, chief medical officer at HeartFlow, told INSIDER. He said this pressure may go away and come back.
However, not everyone experiences heart attacks in the same way. Though individuals of all genders often experience chest pain when having a heart attack, women are more likely to also experience pain in one or both arms, sweating, unusual fatigue, back or jaw pain, or shortness of breath.
Chest pain might be a symptom of a panic attack
Panic attacks are episodes of extreme anxiety that are often accompanied by physical symptoms. During panic attacks, some people experience chest pains that can feel distressingly like a heart problem.
Similar to heart attacks, panic attacks can cause sharp chest pains, shortness of breath, shaking, and a racing heart, per Medical News Today.
According to the National Health Service, most panic attacks last between a few minutes and half an hour. Though they can feel like medical emergencies, panic attacks usually pass on their own and aren’t dangerous.
Deep, slow breathing can help ease symptoms during an attack but it’s worth contacting a healthcare professional if you’ve never experienced a panic attack before or are experiencing them regularly.
An aortic dissection is a rare but life-threatening cause of chest pain
Aortic dissection is a condition in which a tear develops in the aorta, the large vessel that carries blood away from the heart.
According to the Mayo Clinic, this often leads to a flow of blood pushing the inner and outer layers of the aorta apart. Though this condition is rare, it is seen often seen in men who are in their 60s and 70s.
“Aortic dissection typically characterised by a tearing sensation between the shoulder blades… ,” Dr. Kyle Varner, an internal medicine specialist, told INSIDER. He also said if someone is experiencing this they may have different blood-pressure levels in each arm.
“It is important to rule this out when evaluating chest pain because the treatment for heart attacks can make this condition worse,” he added.
Unfortunately, aortic dissection is a potentially fatal condition if it is not identified and treated early. Other symptoms of this condition include trouble walking, leg pain or numbness, severe abdominal pain, difficulty speaking, or weakness on one side of the body.
One of the most common causes of chest pain is actually related to the ribs
Costochondritis is a common type of chest pain that is caused by inflammation of the cartilage that joins the ribs to the sternum.
Though it may feel unsettling, costochondritis isn’t typically dangerous and it is usually associated with excessive exercise (especially bench presses and push-ups), prolonged or severe coughing, or viral infections that cause achiness in one’s body.
According to the National Health Service, costochondritis usually resolves on its own after a few weeks but it can sometimes last for several months or more.
“Given you stop the primary aggravating factor and take good care of yourself, the prognosis for recovery is very good with little intervention,”Keaton Ray, physical therapist and orthopaedic specialist, told INSIDER.
Chest pain can be caused by an irritated nerve
Chest pain can sometimes happen when one of the nerves that branch out of your neck (cervical spine) or middle back (thoracic spine) becomes irritated or inflamed. These nerves give sensation to all areas of the body, including your chest.
“When a nerve becomes ‘pinched’ or irritated at the spinal level, it can cause pain to radiate into the chest region. This pain is often burning and hard to pinpoint. It may feel better when lying down reclined and worse with prolonged poor posturing,” Dr. Ray told INSIDER.
Though an irritated nerve is not always dangerous, it is important to rule out any more serious conditions by consulting a doctor.
GERD is another common reason for chest pain
Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is a condition in which stomach acid travels back up through the esophagus, causing pain and a burning sensation. It’s often linked to a weakening of the muscle at the top of the stomach and it can cause sharp chest pains.
Risk factors for GERD include being overweight, being pregnant, and having high stress levels. People with GERD may also notice a sour taste in their mouth when they wake up or increased symptoms after consuming red wine, chocolate, red meats, and peppermint.
Chest pain is a primary symptom of a pulmonary embolism
A pulmonary embolism occurs when a blood clot blocks one artery or multiple arteries in one’s lungs.
“Patients would feel a sudden onset chest pain, often accompanied by shortness of breath or fainting. This blockage leads to a mismatch of oxygen in the lungs and, in severe cases, can cause sudden cardiac death from heart failure,” Leon Chen, nurse practitioner and clinical assistant professor at NYU Rory Meyers College of Nursing, told INSIDER.
This condition can be life-threatening and if you feel you’re experiencing a pulmonary embolism you’ll want to seek immediate medical attention.
Sharp, squeezing chest pain can sometimes be caused by a gallbladder problem
Biliary colic can feel similar to the symptoms of a heart attack but it’s actually caused by a blocked gallbladder bile duct, according to a report published by Harvard Medical School. This blockage is typically caused by a gallstone, which is a small mass made of cholesterol or hardened bilirubin.
“Biliary colic is characterised by a sudden onset of a sharp or squeezing pain, usually in the upper stomach or the right upper part of the torso. It is often brought on by a fatty meal,” said Dr. Varner.
Bouts of biliary colic typically resolve on their own after one to five hours, though you may feel discomfort for up to a day afterward.
Though biliary colic isn’t usually dangerous in and of itself, people who experience repeated episodes may need to have their gallbladders removed.
Spasms of the esophagus can sometimes cause chest pain
The esophagus is the tube running from your mouth to your chest that carries food into your stomach. Problems with the esophagus, including distal esophageal spasm and hypercontractile esophagus can cause shooting pains in the chest area near your heart.
Esophageal spasms can be painful and alarming, especially if you’ve never experienced them before. According to the Mayo Clinic, they most commonly affect people between the ages of 60 and 80 and have been linked with high blood pressure, anxiety, and depression.
Symptoms of esophageal spasms also include difficulty swallowing or an inability to swallow as well as feeling as though there is food caught in the center of your chest.
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