Chest pain; The first thing you may think of is heart attack. Certainly, chest pain is not something to ignore. But you should know that it has many possible causes. In fact, a lot of people experience chest pain that is not related to the heart. Chest pain may also be caused by problems in your lungs, oesophagus, muscles, ribs, or nerves, for example. Some of these conditions are serious and life-threatening. Others are not. If you have unexplained chest pain, the only way to confirm its cause is to have a doctor evaluate you.
You may feel chest pain anywhere from your neck to your upper abdomen. Depending on its cause, chest pain may be:
- A tight, squeezing, or crushing sensation
Here are some of the more common causes of chest pain.
Chest Pain Causes: Heart Problems
Although not the only cause of chest pain, these heart problems are common causes:
Coronary Artery Disease, or CAD. A blockage in the heart blood vessels that reduces blood flow and oxygen to the heart muscle itself. This can cause pain known as angina. It’s a symptom of heart disease but typically does not cause permanent damage to the heart. It is, though, a sign that you are a candidate for a heart attack at some point in the future. The chest pain may spread to your arm, shoulder, jaw, or back. It may feel like a pressure or squeezing sensation. Angina can be triggered by exercise, excitement, or emotional distress and is relieved by rest.
Myocardial infarction (heart attack). This reduction in blood flow through heart blood vessels causes the death of heart muscle cells. Though similar to angina chest pain, a heart attack is usually a more severe, crushing pain usually in the centre or left side of the chest and is not relieved by rest. Sweating, nausea, shortness of breath, or severe weakness may accompany the pain.
Myocarditis. In addition to chest pain, heart muscle inflammation may cause fever, fatigue, fast heartbeat, and trouble breathing. Although no blockage exists, myocarditis symptoms can resemble those of a heart attack.
Pericarditis. This is an inflammation or infection of the sac around the heart. It can cause pain similar to that caused by angina. However, it often causes a sharp, steady pain along the upper neck and shoulder muscle. Sometimes it gets worse when you breathe, swallow food, or lie on your back.
Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. This genetic disease causes the heart muscle to grow abnormally thick. Sometimes this leads to problems with blood flow out of the heart. Chest pain and shortness of breath often occur with exercise. Over time, heart failure may occur when the heart muscle becomes very thickened. This makes the heart work harder to pump blood. Along with chest pain, this type of cardiomyopathy may cause dizziness, lightheadedness, fainting, and other symptoms.
Mitral valve prolapse. Mitral valve prolapse is a condition in which a valve in the heart fails to close properly. A variety of symptoms have been associated with mitral valve prolapse, including chest pain, palpitations, and dizziness, although it can also have no symptoms, especially if the prolapse is mild.
Coronary artery dissection. A variety of factors can cause this rare but deadly condition, which results when a tear develops in the coronary artery. It may cause a sudden severe pain with a tearing or ripping sensation that goes up into the neck, back, or abdomen.
Chest Pain Causes: Lung Problems
Problems with the lungs can cause a variety of types of chest pain. These are common causes of chest pain:
Pleuritis. Also known as pleurisy, this condition is an inflammation or irritation of the lining of the lungs and chest. You likely feel a sharp pain when you breathe, cough, or sneeze. The most common causes of pleuritic chest pain are bacterial or viral infections, pulmonary embolism, and pneumothorax. Other less common causes include rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, and cancer.
Pneumonia or lung abscess. These lung infections can cause pleuritic and other types of chest pain, such as a deep chest ache. Pneumonia often comes on suddenly, causing fever, chills, cough, and pus coughed up from the respiratory tract.
Pulmonary embolism. When a blood clot travels through the bloodstream and lodges in the lungs, this can cause acute pleuritis, trouble breathing, and a rapid heartbeat. It may also cause fever and shock. Pulmonary embolism is more likely following deep vein thrombosis or after being immobile for several days following surgery or as a complication of cancer.
Pneumothorax. Often caused by an injury to the chest, pneumothorax occurs when a part of the lung collapses, releasing air into the chest cavity. This can also cause pain that gets worse when you breathe as well as other symptoms, such as low blood pressure.
Pulmonary hypertension. With chest pain resembling that of angina, this abnormally high blood pressure in the lung arteries makes the right side of the heart work too hard.
Asthma. Causing shortness of breath, wheezing, coughing, and sometimes chest pain, asthma is an inflammatory disorder of the airways.