Chest pain can be described as piercing pain or a minor steady ache, which often makes people uncomfortable and restless. In some cases, chest pain can also give a burning or crushing sensation, which lasts for a specific period. However, the intensity of chest pain depends on the underlying medical condition. In some cases, chest pain could also be an indication of a heart attack or a heart ailment. In other situations, chest pain could be a small non-harmful issue.

But irrespective of the intensity, chest pain and more importantly, recurrent chest pain should be given immediate medical attention to. Moreover, it is critical to consult a specialist to know the underlying cause and treat the same. 

Heart-related causes of chest pain

If the chest pain is due to an underlying condition of the heart, a person will also experience additional symptoms like shortness of breath, vertigo and heart tremors. A few heart-related conditions that can cause chest pain include:

Angina: Angina is a feeling of pressure or squeezing of the heart, which leads to intense pain and dizziness. Angina is a very common heart issue and usually occurs because of the minimum supply of blood to the muscle of the heart. A person experiencing angina can often mistake it for a heart attack. However, angina is not a very condition and does not lead to any permanent damage to the heart tissue. That said, angina experienced during physical activity is not a matter of concern but angina while sitting or in a relaxing mode is a very serious issue and will need immediate attentive medical care.

Heart attack: In some cases, people experience intense chest pain that travels further to the left arm or the jaw is often due to a heart attack. A person experiencing a heart attack is likely to get a feeling of sharp chest pain, along with tightness and stabbing feeling in the heart.Chest pain caused because of a heart attack indicates that there is a blockage in one or more arteries that is eventually resulting in lack of blood supply to the heart. Moreover, a person experiencing chest pain because of heart attack can also have symptoms like shortness of breath, extreme sweating, nausea, uneven pulse, feeling of choking, extreme weakness and numbness.

Myocarditis: Myocarditis is a medical condition where the heart muscle is swollen because of multiple causes including fever. Myocarditis causes mild pain or pressure in the heart, which can often appear as chest pain. Pain in the heart is also accompanied byshortness of breath, swollen legs, palpitations, etc.Myocarditis is not a seriously alarming condition but in case, there are severe symptoms, medical attention is required.

Pericarditis: Pericarditis is another common heart issue, which is often confused with a heart attack. This condition happens when there is swelling in the watery sac covering the heart. The chest pain caused because of pericarditis can be sharp or dull. It usually begins in the centre of the heart and then radiates to the left side of the heart. A person experiencing this medical issue might also have other symptoms like fatigue, muscle ache and mild fever. The swelling or inflammation can happen because of an existing infection or even due to previous heart surgery. The symptoms of pericarditis usually fade away in a week or so but in case, the signs last longer than this period, medical help is necessary.

Valve Disease: Pain in the chest which occurs because of any exertion can indicate a potential problem in the heart valve.Some other symptoms of valve disease are murmur, breathlessness and fatigue.

Cardiomyopathy: Cardiomyopathy is a medical condition that occurs because of thickening or thinning of heart muscles. The issue in the heart muscle disturbs the normal pumping action of the heart and causes chest pain. This chest pain usually occurs post eating or exercising. Other accompanying symptoms include swollen legs and ankles, heart tremors, and uneven heart rhythm. A patient with cardiomyopathy will require medical care immediately.

Aortic Rupture: Pain in the chest accompanied by a sharp pain in the upper back could likely be a sign of aortic rupture. This aortic rupture happens because of ablood leakage due to a tear within the aortic walls of the heart.

Respiratory causes of chest pain

In other cases, chest pain could also be an indication of a potential issue with the respiratory system of the body. Some respiratory problems that can cause chest pain include:

Pneumonia: If a person experiences chest pain along with strong, stabbing pain, the kind which gets intense with each breath, is more likely because of pneumonia.Some of the other signs that occur along with the chest pain in pneumonia are fever, chills and severe cough, with phlegm. In case a patient has any of these issues or even such mild symptoms, call emergency help.

Asthma: Asthma causes swelling the airways and leads to tightness and pain in the chest of the patient. However, asthma can be easily managed provided it is diagnosed and treated in time and effectively.

Chronic Obstructive Lung Disease (COPD): COPD is a disease, which blocks the inflow and outflow of air via the lungs due to swelling or inflammation. A chest ache that worsens with the rise in physical activity or exertion could be due to COPD.

Pulmonary Embolism: Chest pain can also occur because of a pulmonary embolism, which happens when a blood clot forms in one of the arteries of the lungs. This blockage makes it difficult to breathe and can feel similar to that of a heart attack.

Collapsed Lung: In some instances, the patient might feel a tingling sensation or pain in the chest while breathing. This could indicate a collapsed lung where the air gets trapped between the walls of the chest and the lungs. Thus, in turn, pressurises the lungs and makes it problematic for the lungs to expand upon inhaling of air.

Other respiratory issues that cause chest pain could include pleurisy, lung cancer and pulmonary hypertension. That said, the chest pain in these health issues is more recurrent in nature. 

Digestive causes of chest pain

Digestive issues that cause chest pain happens because of a malfunction of the digestive system and the connected esophagus. Chest pain caused because of digestive concerns worsens at the time of lying down and improves with movement, exertion or any physical activity. Such chest pain is a likely indication of one of the below digestive problems:

  • Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD) – acid reflux ailment causing a burning sensation in the chest
  • Esophagitis – fiery sensation and chest ache while swallowing
  • Esophageal Rupture
  • Dysphagia – discomfort and pain while swallowing
  • Gallstones
  • Pancreatitis
  • Hiatal Hernia

Some other causes of chest pain

Apart from the heart, respiratory and digestive causes of chest pain, the below issues can also lead to acute pain in the chest

  • Extreme anxiety 
  • Panic attack
  • Muscle strain
  • Injured rib
  • Costochondritis, which is swelling of the rib cartilage

Diagnosis of Chest Pain

To know the actual reason for chest pain, the doctor will conduct diagnostic tests. Some of the tests useful for this purpose are:

  • An electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG) to check the electrical activity of the heart
  • A blood test to assess the enzyme level in the body
  • Chest X-ray to evaluate the condition of the heart, lungs and blood vessels
  • An Echocardiogram to obtain the moving images of the heart
  • An MRI to measure the existing damage to the aorta or the heart muscle
  • Stress test
  • An Angiogram to assess any blockage in arteries

Treatment of Chest Pain

To treat chest pain in patients, it is critical to understand the underlying cause and the intensity of the issue. The treatment of chest pain can include medications, non-invasive procedures, surgery or a combination of these.

The below methods can be used to cure heart-related chest pain: 

  • Medicines
  • Cardiac catheterization, which includes the usage of balloons or placement of stents to open the narrowed or blocked arteries of the heart
  • Coronary artery bypass grafting or bypass surgery that surgically repairs the injured or compromised arteries

The methods below can treat chest pain caused because of other issues:

  • Lung re-inflation for patients where the chest pain is because of a collapsed lung
  • Antacids or other medical procedures for patients that experience acid reflux and heartburn, along with their signs
  • Anti-anxiety medicines to treat patients that have chest pain due to panic attacks

Overall, it is advisable to not ignore chest pains or take them lightly. It is good to consult a doctor upon any troubling symptoms and eliminate any chances of a serious underlying condition. Timely help is always beneficial.

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