What causes chest pain? 84 possible conditions

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What Is Chest Pain?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), chest pain is one of the most common reasons that people ages 15 and older visit the emergency room. In 2008, about nine percent of all ER visits were related to chest pain. (CDC, 2010)

Chest pain varies from person to person. It may feel like a sharp, stabbing pain or a dull ache. While chest pain may be a sign of a serious heart-related problem, it may also have other common, non–life-threatening causes.

What Causes Chest Pain?

When you have chest pain, your first thought may be that you are having a heart attack. While chest pain is a possible sign of a heart problem, many other, less serious conditions can also cause chest pain. Only about 13 percent of all ER visits for chest pain result in a diagnosis of a serious heart-related problem. (CDC, 2010)

Heart-Related Causes of Chest Pain

  • heart attack
  • angina—chest pain due to blockages in the blood vessels leading to your heart
  • pericarditis—inflammation of the sac around the heart
  • myocarditis—inflammation of the heart muscle
  • cardiomyopathy—heart muscle disease
  • aortic dissection—a rare condition involving rupture of the heart’s main artery

Gastrointestinal Causes of Chest Pain

  • acid reflux (heartburn)
  • swallowing problems related to disorders of the esophagus
  • gallstones or inflammation of the gallbladder or pancreas

Lung-Related Causes of Chest Pain

  • pneumonia
  • viral bronchitis
  • pneumothorax—a leak of air from your lung into your chest

Muscle/Bone Causes of Chest Pain

  • bruised or broken ribs
  • sore muscles from exertion or chronic pain syndromes
  • compression fracture, causing pressure on a nerve

Other Causes of Chest Pain

  • shingles—an infection of the nerves and skin caused by the chicken pox virus
  • panic attack – a sudden episode of intense fear when there is no real danger or cause

What Other Symptoms May Accompany Chest Pain?

Chest pain may be accompanied by other symptoms that will help with diagnosis.

Heart-Related Symptoms

While pain is the most common symptom of a heart problem, some people experience other symptoms, with or without accompanying chest pain. Women in particular have reported atypical symptoms that have later been diagnosed as a heart condition.

  • pressure or tightness in the chest
  • back, jaw, or arm pain
  • fatigue
  • feeling light-headed, dizzy, or short of breath
  • abdominal pain or nausea
  • pain after exertion

Other Symptoms

Symptoms that may indicate your chest pain is not heart-related include:

  • sour or acidic taste in your mouth
  • pain only after you swallow or eat, or difficulty swallowing
  • pain that is better or worse depending on your body position
  • pain that is worse when you breathe deeply or cough
  • tenderness when you push on your chest
  • pain accompanied by a rash
  • fever, aches, chills, runny nose, or cough
  • feelings of panic or anxiety
  • hyperventilating
  • back pain that radiates to the front of the chest

How Is Chest Pain Diagnosed?

If you think you may be having a heart attack, it’s important that you seek emergency treatment immediately, especially if chest pain is new, unexplained, or lasts more than a few moments.

Your doctor will ask a number of questions to help diagnose the cause of your chest pain. Be prepared to discuss any related symptoms and to share information about any medications, treatments, or other medical conditions you may have.

Diagnostic Tests

Your doctor may order tests to help diagnose or eliminate heart-related problems as a cause of your chest pain. These may include:

  • electrocardiogram, which records your heart’s electrical activity
  • blood tests, to measure enzyme levels
  • chest X-ray, to examine heart, lungs, and blood vessels
  • echocardiogram, which uses sound waves to record moving images of the heart
  • computed tomography (CT) scan, to look for blockages in blood vessels
  • magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), which looks for damage to the heart or aorta
  • stress tests, to measure your heart function after exertion
  • angiogram, to look for blockages in specific arteries

How Is Chest Pain Treated?

Chest pain might be treated with medication, noninvasive procedures, surgery, or a combination of all of the above.

Heart-Related Treatments

  • medications, including nitroglycerin and other artery relaxers, clot-busting drugs, and blood thinners
  • cardiac catheterization, using balloons and/or stents to open blocked arteries
  • surgical repair of arteries

Other Treatments

  • lung re-inflation, in case of a collapsed lung
  • antacids or certain procedures for acid reflux and heartburn
  • anti-anxiety medications for chest pain related to panic attacks

What Is the Outlook for Chest Pain?

Many common causes of chest pain can be easily treated and resolved. However, chest pain can also be a symptom of a life-threatening condition.

If you think you may be experiencing a heart attack or other heart problem, seeking medical treatment immediately can help save your heart muscle and your life. Once you have been diagnosed, your doctor can recommend additional treatments to help manage your condition.

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See a list of possible causes in order from the most common to the least.


Heart Attack Overview

This condition is considered a medical emergency. Urgent care may be required.

A clot blocks the blood flow to the heart (heart attack), and damages heart muscle. Symptoms include chest pain, shortness of breath, and a blue or grey tinge to the skin.

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Angina Pectoris

This condition is considered a medical emergency. Urgent care may be required.

Angina is a type of chest pain caused by reduced blood flow to the heart. Lower blood flow means your heart isn't getting enough oxygen. This pain often occurs with physical activity or stress. Stable angina, als...

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Types of Acid Reflux

Acid reflux symptoms are caused when stomach contents flow up from the stomach back into the esophagus, causing symptoms like heartburn, stomach pain, and burping.

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Unstable Angina

This condition is considered a medical emergency. Urgent care may be required.

Angina is a condition marked by crushing pain in your chest that may also be felt in your shoulders, neck, and arms. The pain is caused by inadequate blood supply to your heart, which leaves your heart deprived o...

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Heartburn typically occurs when contents from the stomach back up into the esophagus. This causes a burning sensation in the chest and a bitter taste in the throat or mouth. Heartburn may be prevented by avoiding food...

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Chronic Bronchitis

Your bronchial tubes are responsible for delivering air to your lungs. When these tubes become inflamed, mucus can build up. The coughing and shortness of breath this causes is known as bronchitis. People often develo...

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Pneumonia is an infection of the lungs. General symptoms include chest pain, fever, cough, nausea, and difficulty breathing. Blue skin, high fever, and bloody mucus are serious signs.

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High Blood Pressure Overview

High blood pressure (hypertension) increases your risk for heart attack, stroke, coronary heart disease, and other serious health problems.

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Lung Cancer Overview

Lung cancer is a cancer that originates in the lungs. Lung cancer often goes undetected in the early stages, since symptoms don't usually present themselves until the advanced stages of the disease.

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Costochondritis (Tietze's Syndrome)

Costochondritis is inflammation of the cartilage where the ribs attach to the breastbone. Pain worsens if you move, stretch, or breathe deeply. Women and those over 40 are most commonly diagnosed with this condition.

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Peptic Ulcer

Peptic ulcers are sores that develop in the lining of the stomach, esophagus, and small intestine as a result of erosion from stomach acids. Peptic ulcers are a fairly common health problem, and it is estimated tha...

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Abnormal Heart Rhythms

This condition is considered a medical emergency. Urgent care may be required.

Have you ever felt your heart skip a beat? If you're not a character in a romance novel, that may mean you have an abnormal heart rhythm (arrhythmia). Within the heart is a complex system of valves, nodes, an...

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Hypertensive Heart Disease

Hypertensive heart disease refers to heart conditions caused by high blood pressure. It's not a single disease, but rather, a number of different heart disorders all caused by the same thing: the heart working unde...

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What is Fibromyalgia?

Fibromyalgia is a chronic disorder characterized by unexplained pain in muscles and joints throughout the body. Read our doctor-reviewed articles and learn about fibromyalgia now.

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Cor Pulmonare

Cor pulmonale is a condition that most commonly arises out of complications from pulmonary hypertension (high blood pressure). It is also known as right-sided heart failure because it occurs within the right ventricl...

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Rheumatic Fever

Rheumatic fever is one of the complications associated with strep throat. The condition usually appears in children between the ages of 5 and 15, even though older children and adults have been known to contract th...

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Anemia occurs when the number of healthy red blood cells (RBCs) in the body is too low. Red cells carry oxygen to all the body's tissues, so a low red blood cell count indicates that the amount of oxygen in the blood i...

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Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy

Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM) is a condition where your heart muscle, or myocardium, becomes thicker than normal. This interferes with your heart's ability to pump blood.In most cases, HCM doesn't cause an...

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Cholesterol is a waxy substance that occurs naturally in the body. But too much cholesterol can clog blood vessels and lead to heart attack or stroke.

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Tuberculosis (TB) is a potentially fatal contagious disease that can affect almost any part of the body but is mainly an infection of the lungs.

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This feature is for informational purposes only and should not be used to diagnose.
Please consult a healthcare professional if you have health concerns.
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