What Causes Chest Pain? 20 Possible Causes Of This Dangerous Symptom And When It Is An Emergency

Date May 10, 2018 17:54

Chest pain is a symptom most commonly associated with a heart attack. But it may be caused by plenty of other things, from chest muscle strain to acid reflux. But, regardless of the cause of this symptom, remember this: never ignore chest pain.

Most common reasons why your chest may hurt have to do with the heart, lungs, esophagus, and other organs and structures in the chest or just below it. Depending on the cause, chest pain also varies in nature, severity, and duration.

Below, we list some common causes of chest pain, and cases when this symptom is an emergency or a reason to schedule an appointment with your healthcare provider.

READ ALSO: 7 Common Signs And Symptoms Of A Heart Attack And Other Heart-Related Problems

Chest pain related to the heart

Here are several common causes of chest pain which have to do with the heart:

Heart attack

A heart attack is what happens when the blood flow to your heart muscle is interrupted, usually by a blood clot. This cardiac event is an emergency, as irreversible damage to the heart or even death may occur if the blood flow is not normalized quickly. Apart from chest pain, other symptoms of a heart attack are the following:

  • pressure or heaviness in the chest;
  • pain radiating to the upper back, shoulders, neck, jaw, or arm;
  • breathlessness;
  • increased perspiration;
  • lightheadedness;
  • nausea.

Chest pain is more likely to be caused by a heart attack if it occurs along with the symptoms listed above.


Angina may feel similar to a heart attack, and the pain usually appears with exertion and improves with rest. In angina, the blood supply to the heart is decreased, but not interrupted. Other than chest pain, symptoms of angina are the following:

  • breathlessness during and after exertion;
  • squeezing sensation and pressure in the chest;
  • dizziness.

Angina commonly occurs due to coronary artery disease (CAD), in which plaque accumulates on the walls of the heart arteries. Since CAD also raises your risk of a heart attack, the symptom should be reported to your doctor in any case.

If you are unsure whether the chest pain indicates angina or a heart attack, call the ambulance anyway.


Myocarditis usually develops as a complication of a viral infection. In myocarditis, chest pain is usually mild and continuous, and it may occur together with breathlessness, pressure in the chest, leg swelling, and heart palpitations. Even if your symptoms are mild and aren't bothering you all that much, call your doctor and describe your symptoms to them.

Other heart-related causes of chest pain include the following:

  • cardiomyopathy, disease of the heart muscle;
  • pericarditis;
  • aortic rupture, an emergency event which causes sudden and intense chest pain and severe breathlessness.

READ ALSO: Stay Alert: 7 Emergency Signs And Symptoms Of A Heart Attack In Women

Chest pain due to problems in the lungs

Below are several common causes of chest pain which have to do with the lungs:

Pulmonary hypertension

Pulmonary hypertension is high blood pressure in the arteries which deliver blood to the lungs. The condition may or may not cause chest pain.


Pneumonia can develop as a complication of an infection. In pneumonia, chest pain is usually accompanied by severe cough, breathlessness, high body temperature, and chills. If you suspect you may have pneumonia, call your doctor. If your symptoms are severe, call the ambulance.

Pulmonary embolism

Pulmonary embolism is a dangerous, often fatal event in which a lung artery becomes obstructed by a blood clot. Symptoms of pulmonary embolism are intense chest pain, increasing breathlessness, and coughing, sometimes with blood. In case of pulmonary embolism, the ambulance should be called immediately.

Collapsed lung (pneumothorax)

In pneumothorax, the air gets in between the chest wall and the lungs. Chest pain caused by pneumothorax worsens with inhalation and is usually accompanied by breathlessness. Common causes of pneumothorax include chronic lung disease and chest trauma. Get medical help right away if you suspect pneumothorax.

Other causes of chest pain related to the lungs include the following:

  • pleurisy;
  • chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD);
  • advanced lung cancer.

Chest pain related to the digestive system

Below are several causes of chest pain which have to do with digestive system:

Acid reflux

In acid reflux, stomach contents spill into the esophagus, causing irritation and pain. The pain caused by acid reflux is called heartburn, and it usually appears after eating large meals and/or aggravating foods and is worse when you’re in a horizontal position.


Esophagitis is inflammation of the esophagus, the tube which connects the oral cavity and the stomach. Esophagitis is commonly caused by gastroesophageal reflux disease. In esophagitis, chest pain is usually accompanied by painful swallowing.

Other causes of chest pain related to digestion include the following:

  • pancreatitis;
  • gallstones or gallbladder inflammation (cholecystitis).

In addition to the causes of chest pain listed above, here are a few other possible causes of this symptom:

  • strained chest muscles;
  • rib fracture;
  • panic attack, in which chest pain usually occurs along with other symptoms, such as intense fear, breathlessness, sweating, and elevated heart rate.

Chest pain should always be reported to a doctor to establish its cause. Some people who are experiencing chest pain may think 'It's alright, I've had it before and nothing happened,' or 'If it's not serious, why would I call 911 and waste anybody's time?' But it's better to be safe than sorry, right?

Source: HealthLine, Mayo Clinic, EMedicineHealth

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This article is solely for informational purposes. Do not self-diagnose or self-medicate, and in all cases consult a certified healthcare professional before using any information presented in the article. The editorial board does not guarantee any results and does not bear any responsibility for any harm that may result from using the information provided in the article.