Chest pain can be either a sharp stabbing pain or a mild consistent ache that makes you uncomfortable and often restless. It can also feel like burning or crushing, and could last for some time, depending on the severity of the case and the underlying cause. Sometimes, chest pain can also indicate a possible heart attack or a heart problem, while many other times these could be non-harmful conditions.
That said, no matter the intensity, a chest pain especially recurrent chest pain must be paid attention to and consulted with a specialist to know the cause. There can be multiple causes of chest pain; while some are life-threatening others may be mild.
Heart-related causes of chest pain
Chest pain caused by underlying condition of the heart is often accompanied by symptoms such as shortness of breath, dizziness and heart palpitations. Some of the heart conditions that can potentially cause chest pain are:
Angina: A feeling of pressure or squeezing of the heart that causes extreme pain and dizziness. Angina is a fairly common heart problem that occurs due to reduced supply of blood to the heart muscle. It might feel like a heart attack but it is not so intense and does not cause permanent damage to the heart tissue. Angina occurring during a physical activity is relatively less worrisome; however angina occurring during sitting or relaxing mode is a serious cause of worry and need immediate medical attention.
Heart attack: Acute chest pain that might travel to cause pain in the left arm or jaw is categorically caused because of a heart attack. The pain is a sharp, stabbing feeling with tightness. Chest pain due to heart attack implies that there is blockage in one or more arteries causing lack of supply of blood to the heart. Chest pain that indicates a heart attack might be accompanied by shortness of breath, dizziness, excessive sweating, nausea, irregular pulse, feeling of choking, severe weakness and numbness.
Myocarditis: When the heart muscle is swollen due to reasons such as fever, it causes mild pain or pressure in the heart, known as myocarditis.Some other symptoms of the problem include shortness of breath, swelling in legs, palpitations, etc.The condition is not always alarming expect for severe symptoms.
Pericarditis: A common heart condition and often confused with a heart attack, a pericarditis occurs when there is inflammation in the watery sac surrounding the heart. The pain can be sharp or dull and begins from the centre then radiated to the left side of the heart, accompanies by fatigue, muscle ache, and mild fever. The inflammation is because of an infection or a previous heart surgery, and the symptoms tend to fade way in a week or so. In case not, medical help should be sought.
Valve Disease: Chest pain that appears with exertion can be caused due to a possible valve problem. Chest pain accompanied by murmur, breathlessness and fatigue are common sings of a valve disease.
Cardiomyopathy: A pain in the chest after eating or exercising can be because of cardiomyopathy which results in thickening or thinning of heart muscles, disturbing the pumping action of the heart. Chest pain along with swollen legs and ankles, heart palpitations, and irregular heart rhythm needs immediate medical help.
Aortic Rupture: Chest pain followed by sharp ache in the upper back can indicate an aortic rupture causing blood leakage due to a tear within the aortic walls.
Respiratory causes of chest pain
Sometimes the chest pain may indicate a possible problem with the respiratory system of the body.
Pulmonary Embolism: Chest pain caused because of pulmonary embolism can feel similar to a heart attack but is caused because of a blood clot in one of the arteries of the lungs, making it difficult to breathe.
Collapsed Lung: Chest pain occurring while breathing in can indicate a collapsed lung which implies that there is air trapped between the chest wall and the lungs, pressurizing the lungs and making it difficult for them to expand while inhaling of air.
Pneumonia: The chest pain caused because of pneumonia begins with a sharp, stabbing pain and gets worse with breathing in.It will be accompanies by other symptoms such as fever, chills and severe cough, with phlegm. Schedule an appointment if you have mild symptoms and call emergency help in case the situation is intense.
Asthma: Asthma leads to inflammation in the airways that causes tightness and pain in the chest. Asthma can be diagnosed and treated effectively.
Chronic Obstructive Lung Disease (COPD): A disease that restricts the inflow and outflow of air through the lungs due to inflammation. Chest pain worsening with physical activity or exertion can indicate COPD.
Other respiratory causes of chest pain that can indicate a possible health condition include pleurisy, lung cancer and pulmonary hypertension. Though rare, these factors can also result in recurrent chest pain.
Digestive causes of chest pain
Digestive problems that cause chest pain are basically because of dysfunctional digestive system and the esophagus. A chest pain that worsens while lying down and gets better with movement, exertion and physical activity – is a possible indication of a digestive problem such as:
- Gastro Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) – Acid reflux disease causing burning sensation
- Esophagitis – burning sensation and chest pain while swallowing
- Esophageal Rupture
- Dysphagia – Swallowing discomfort and pain
- Hiatal Hernia
Other causes of chest pain
Apart from the above, the below situations or problems can also cause chest pain:
- Extreme anxiety
- Panic attack
- Muscle strain
- Injured rib
- Costochondritis – inflammation of the rib cartilage
Diagnosis of Chest Pain
The doctor will conduct several diagnostic tests to find the actual cause of chest pain. These tests will include:
- An electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG) to record the heart’s electrical activity
- Blood test to check the enzyme level
- Chest X-ray to check the heart, lungs and blood vessels
- An Echocardiogram to get moving images of the heart
- An MRI to assess damage to the aorta or the heart
- Stress test
- An Angiogram to check for blockage in arteries
Treatment of Chest Pain
The treatment of chest pain depends on the underlying cause and the severity of the problem. The treatment can include medications, non-invasive procedures, surgery or a combination of these methods.
Treatments for heart-related chest pain include:
- Cardiac catheterization which involves using balloons or placing stents to open the blocked or narrowed arteries
- Coronary artery bypass grafting or bypass surgery which aims to repair the damaged or compromised arteries surgically
Treatment for chest pain caused by other reasons:
- Lung re-inflation in case the chest pain is due to a collapsed lung
- Antacids or other medical procedures to treat acid reflux and heartburn, along with their symptoms
- Anti-anxiety medications that treat patients with chest pain due to panic attacks
Chest pains should not be ignored or taken lightly; one should consult the doctor and rule out probabilities of serious underlying condition and get timely help.