Alternate Names : Chest tightness, Chest pressure, Chest discomfort
Chest pain is discomfort or pain that you feel anywhere along the front of your body between your neck and upper abdomen.
Overview & Considerations
Many people with chest pain fear a heart attack. However, there are many possible causes of chest pain. Some causes are mildly inconvenient, while other causes are serious, even life-threatening. Any organ or tissue in your chest can be the source of pain, including your heart, lungs, esophagus, muscles, ribs, tendons, or nerves.
Heart problems that can cause chest pain:
- Angina is a type of heart-related chest pain. This pain occurs because your heart is not getting enough blood and oxygen. The most common symptom is chest pain that occurs behind the breast bone or slightly to the left of it. It may feel like tightness, heavy pressure, squeezing, or crushing pain. The pain may spread to the arm, shoulder, jaw, or back.
- Heart attack pain can be similar to the pain of unstable angina, but more severe.
- Aortic dissection causes sudden, severe pain in the chest and upper back.
- Inflammation or infection in the tissue around the heart (pericarditis) causes pain in the center part of the chest.
Lung problems that can cause chest pain:
- Pneumonia, which causes chest pain that usually feels sharp, and often gets worse when you take a deep breath or cough
- A blood clot in the lung (pulmonary embolism), collapse of a small area of the lung (pneumothorax), or inflammation of the lining around the lung (pleurisy) can cause chest pain that usually feels sharp, and often gets worse when you take a deep breath or cough
- Asthma, which generally also causes shortness of breath, wheezing, or coughing
Other causes of chest pain:
- Strain or inflammation of the muscles and tendons between the ribs
- Inflammation where the ribs join the breast bone or sternum (costochondritis)
- Shingles (sharp, tingling pain on one side that stretches from the chest to the back)
- Anxiety and rapid breathing
Chest pain can also be related to the following digestive system problems:
- Heartburn or gastroesophageal reflux (GERD)
- Stomach ulcer (burning pain occurs if your stomach is empty and feels better when you eat food)
- Gallbladder (pain often gets worse after a meal, especially a fatty meal)
In children, most chest pain is not caused by the heart.
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Review Date : 6/1/2009
Reviewed By : Jeffrey Heit, MD, Internist with special emphasis on preventive health, fitness and nutrition, Philadelphia VA Medical Center, Philadelphia, PA. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.