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What causes chest pain? 84 possible conditions

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.

Learn about stable angina and what causes it. Find information on stable angina symptoms, risk factors, diagnosis, and treatment.

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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 a crushing pain in your chest. It is due to inadequate blood supply to your heart muscle, which deprives your heart of oxygen.

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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

People often develop acute bronchitis after a viral chest infection. Blue-colored lips ankle or foot swelling can result.

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Pneumonia is an infection of the lungs caused by fungi, bacteria, or viruses. General symptoms include chest pain, fever, cough, and difficulty breathing.

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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. Left untreated, high blood pressure can damage blood vessels and vital organs.

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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 painful sores in the lining of the stomach, esophagus, or small intestine. Peptic ulcers are a fairly common health problem.

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Abnormal Heart Rhythms

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

An abnormal heart rhythm (arrhythmia) is a change in the heart's beating pattern. There are many different types with different causes and effects. Possible symptoms are feeling faint, chest pain, and sweating.

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Hypertensive Heart Disease

Hypertensive heart disease refers to heart conditions caused by high blood pressure. Possible signs of acute hypertension include sweating and chills.

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What is Fibromyalgia?

Fibromyalgia is a chronic disorder characterized by widespread, unexplained pain in tender points in muscles and joints, including the head, neck, and sides of hips.

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Cor Pulmonare

Cor pulmonale causes the right ventricle to enlarge and pump blood less effectively than it should. Shortness of breath, chronic cough, and a blue tint to the mouth and fingernails are all symptoms.

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Rheumatic Fever

Rheumatic fever is a possible and potentially serious complication of strep throat. It tends to occur in children between five and 15 years old. Rash is one possible sign of this condition.

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Anemia happens when the number of healthy red blood cells in your body is too low. Red blood cells carry oxygen to all of the body's tissues.

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Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy

Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM) occurs when the heart muscle (myocardium) becomes thicker than normal. This interferes with your heart's ability to pump blood. Possible symptoms are dizziness, chest pain, and more.

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Cholesterol is a natural substance, but too much of it can clog blood vessels and lead to heart attack or stroke. High cholesterol levels can also cause yellow deposits in the eyes or in tendons.

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Tuberculosis (TB) is a highly infectious disease that primarily affects the lungs. A severe and long-lasting cough, fever, and night sweats could indicate an active TB infection.

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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.