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Chest pain – Symptoms and causes

Publisher/Author : Pacific Cross

This post is also available in: Tiếng Việt (Vietnamese)

Chest pain - Symptoms and causes

Know the basics

What is chest pain?

Chest pain is commonly described as crushing or burning sensation in chest. In certain cases, the pain moves up the neck, into the jaw, and then spread to the back, down one or both arms.

Chest pain is caused by many factors. The most dangerous causes are diseases related to heart or lungs. You should visit a doctor to be checked carefully, as the causes of chest pain is very difficult to be determined.

How common is chest pain?

Chest pain can occur at any age, but it is rarely heart-related or life threatening. It can be managed by reducing your risk factors. Please discuss with your doctor for further information.

Know the symptoms

What are the symptoms of chest pain?

There are some symptoms of chest pain that you can diagnose for yourself:

  • Pressure, fullness or tightness in your chest;
  • Crushing or searing pain that radiates to your back, neck, jaw, shoulders and arms — particularly your left arm;
  • Pain that lasts more than a few minutes, gets worse with activity, goes away and comes back or varies in intensity;
  • Shortness of breath;
  • Cold sweats;
  • Dizziness or weakness;
  • Nausea or vomiting;
  • A sour taste or a sensation of food re-entering your mouth;
  • Trouble swallowing;
  • Pain that gets better or worse when you change your body position;
  • Pain that intensifies when you breathe deeply or cough;
  • Tenderness when you push on your chest;

The classic symptoms of heartburn like a painful, burning sensation behind your breastbone, can be caused by problems with your heart or your stomach.

There may be some symptoms not listed above. If you have any concerns about a symptom, please consult your doctor.

When should I see my doctor?

In case that you have some new or unexplained chest pain, please consult with your doctor. Everyone’s body acts differently. It is always best to discuss with your doctor what is best for your situation.

Call your local health care provider if you have any of these symptoms along with chest pain:

  • A sudden feeling of pressure, squeezing, tightness, or crushing under your breastbone;
  • Chest pain that spreads to your jaw, left arm, or back;
  • Sudden sharp chest pain with shortness of breath, especially after a long period of inactivity;
  • Nausea, dizziness, rapid heart rateor rapid breathing, confusion, ashen color, or excessive sweating;
  • Very low blood pressure or very low heart rate;

Know the causes

What causes chest pain?

Heart-related causes

  • Heart attack occurs when a blood clot stops your blood from flowing to your heart muscle.
  • Angina: when thick plaques build up on the inner walls of arteries, your arteries are narrowed and the blood to your heart is restricted, causing chest pain.
  • Aortic dissection: this life-threatening condition involves the main artery leading from your heart — your aorta. If the inner layers of this blood vessel separate, blood will be forced between the layers and can cause the aorta to rupture.
  • Pericarditis: in this condition, an inflammation of the sac surrounding your heart usually causes sharp pain that gets worse when you breathe in or when you lay down.

Digestive causes

  • Heartburn occurs when stomach acid washes up from your stomach into the esophagus — the tube that connects your throat to your stomach.
  • Swallowing disorders: disorders of the esophagus can make swallowing difficult and even painful.
  • Gallbladder or pancreas problems: gallstones or inflammation of your gallbladder or pancreas could cause abdominal pain that radiates to your chest.

Muscle and bone causes

  • Costochondritis: the cartilage of your rib cage, particularly the cartilage that joins your ribs to your breastbone, becomes inflamed and painful.
  • Sore muscles: chronic pain syndromes, such as fibromyalgia, can produce persistent muscle.
  • A  bruised or broken rib can cause chest pain.

Lung-related causes

Many lung disorders can cause chest pain, including:

  • Pulmonary embolism occurs when a blood clot becomes lodged in a lung (pulmonary) artery, blocking blood flow to lung tissue.
  • If the membrane that covers your lungs becomes inflamed, it can cause chest pain that is made worse when you inhale or cough.
  • The chest pain associated with a collapsed lung often begins suddenly and can last for hours. A collapsed lung occurs when air leaks into the space between the lung and the ribs.
  • High blood pressure in the arteries carrying blood to the lungs (pulmonary hypertension) also can produce chest pain.

Other causes

Besides, chest pain can also be caused by:

  • Panic attack: if you have periods of intense fear accompanied by chest pain, rapid heartbeat, rapid breathing, profuse sweating, shortness of breath, nausea, dizziness and a fear of dying, you may be experiencing a panic attack.
  • Shingles is caused by a reactivation of the chickenpox virus, it can produce pain and a band of blisters from your back around to your chest wall.

Know the risk factors

What increases my risk for chest pain?

There are four reasons that make your chest pain in higher of risk, such as: age, smoking, unhealthy lifestyle and genetics.

Understand the diagnosis & treatment

The information provided is not a substitute for any medical advice. ALWAYS consult with your doctor for more information.

How is chest pain diagnosed?

Immediate tests

Some of the first tests you may undergo include:

  • Electrocardiogram (ECG) could show that a heart attack has occurred or is in progress by recording the electrical activity of your heart through electrodes attached to your skin.
  • Doctor may order blood tests to check for increased levels of certain enzymes normally found in heart muscle.
  • Chest X-ray of your chest will allow doctors to check the condition of your lungs; the size, shape of your heart and major blood vessels. Moreover, it can also reveal lung problems such as pneumonia or a collapsed lung.
  • Computerized tomography (CT scan) can be used to look for a blood clot in your lung or to check your aorta to make sure that you are not having aortic dissection.

Follow-up testing

Depending upon the results from these initial tests, you may need follow-up testing, which may include:

  • An echocardiogram uses sound waves to produce a video image of your heart in motion. In some cases, a small device may be passed down your throat to obtain better views of different parts of your heart.
  • Computerized tomography (CT scan): there are some different types of CT scans can be used to check your heart arteries for signs of calcium, which indicate areas where plaque blockages are accumulating.
  • Stress tests: these measure how your heart and blood vessels respond to exertion, which may indicate if your pain is related to your heart. There are many kinds of stress tests that you will asked to do.
  • Coronary catheterization (angiogram): this test helps doctors identify individual arteries to your heart that may be narrowed or blocked. A liquid dye is injected into the arteries of your heart through a catheter. When the dye fills your arteries, they become visible on X-ray and video.

How is chest pain treated?


Drugs used to treat some of the most common causes of chest pain include:

  • Artery relaxers: nitroglycerin usually taken as a tablet under the tongue, so blood can flow more easily through the narrowed spaces. Some blood pressure medicines also relax and widen blood vessels.
  • Aspirin: if doctors suspect that your chest pain is related to your heart, you will likely be given aspirin.
  • Clot-busting drugs: if you are having a heart attack, you may receive drugs to dissolve the clot that is blocking blood from reaching your heart muscle.
  • Blood thinners: if you have a clot in an artery of your heart or lungs, you will be given drugs that inhibit blood clotting to help prevent more clots from forming.
  • Acid-suppressing medications: if your chest pain is caused by stomach acid splashing up your esophagus, the doctor may suggest medications that reduce the amount of acid in your stomach.
  • Antidepressants: if you are experiencing panic attacks, your doctor may prescribe antidepressants to help control your symptoms.

Surgical and other procedures

Besides, doctor may recommend some procedures to treat chest pain, such as:

  • Balloons and stent placement are used in case that your chest pain is caused by a blockage in an artery feeding your heart. Doctors insert narrow tubing into a large blood vessel in your groin and thread it up to the blockage. They then deploy a balloon to reopen the artery. In many cases, a small wire mesh tube (stent) is inserted to keep the artery open.
  • Bypass surgery: during this procedure, surgeons take a blood vessel from another part of your body and use it to create an alternative route for blood to go around the blocked artery.
  • Dissection repair: you may need emergency surgery to repair an aortic dissection — a life-threatening condition that can result in the rupture of artery that carries blood from your heart to the rest of body.
  • Lung reinflation: if you have a collapsed lung, doctors may insert a tube in your chest, which allows the lung to reinflate.

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Lifestyle changes & home remedies

What are some lifestyle changes or home remedies that can help me manage chest pain?

Annual test can help you detect problems as soon as they develop, instead of waiting until the symptoms happen.

If you have any questions, please consult with your doctor to better understand the best solution for you.


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