COVID-19 is a respiratory disease caused by a type of coronavirus that emerged in late 2019 called SARS-CoV-2.

Most people with COVID-19 develop mild illness. Older adults and people with existing conditions like diabetes, cancer, or kidney disease are at the highest risk of developing severe symptoms. It’s estimated that more than 80 percent of COVID-19 deaths are in people over 65.

The coronavirus can attack your lungs and heart. It can cause chest pain or a burning sensation in your lungs. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) lists persistent pain or pressure in your chest as a sign that you should seek emergency medical care for COVID-19.

Keep reading to learn why COVID-19 sometimes causes chest pain and when you should seek medical attention.

Medical emergency

Burning in your chest can have many potential causes that range from mild to life threatening.

Visit a doctor right away if your chest pain is intense or accompanied by other concerning symptoms. It’s especially critical to see a doctor if you’re at risk of heart or lung problems.

Go to the nearest emergency room or call 911 if you have the following symptoms:

  • pain that spreads to your back, shoulder, left arm, or jaw
  • confusion, trouble breathing, or loss of consciousness
  • intense pain that onsets suddenly
  • burning that gets worse or doesn’t respond to home treatment
  • rapid breathing or a rapid heart rate
  • a crushing or tightening sensation in your chest

Chest pain or burning can be a sign of COVID-19. Discomfort in your chest may occur along with shortness of breath or trouble breathing. Studies have found that up to 17.7 percent of people with COVID-19 report chest pain.

People with severe COVID-19 are more likely to report trouble breathing or chest pain than people with mild illness. Research has found that chest pain is reported about three times more often in people who die from COVID-19 than those who survive.

What causes chest pain?

It’s thought that chest pain may be a result of heart injury or inflammation of the tissues surrounding the lungs.

The coronavirus can enter your cells through a receptor called angiotensin converting enzyme 2 (ACE2). ACE2 is found in many parts of your body, including your lungs, heart, and gastrointestinal tract. Once the virus enters your cells through ACE2, it can lead to cellular damage and inflammation.

Heart damage

The release of molecules called inflammatory cytokines by your immune system may also cause damage to heart cells. This phenomenon is called cytokine storm syndrome.

It’s been suggested to contribute to left ventricle dysfunction (or weakness of the heart muscle) in people with COVID-19 who also have heart complications. Lung dysfunction and low oxygen levels can also contribute to heart damage.

People with a history of cardiovascular disease seem to be at an elevated risk of heart damage. A July 2020 study found approximately 30 to 60 percent of people with heart injury have a history of coronary heart disease or high blood pressure.

Lung inflammation

The pleural space is an area between layers of the sac that surrounds each of your lungs. Inflammatory molecules released into the pleural space can trigger pain receptors and potentially cause chest pain or burning.

COVID-19 can also lead to the development of pneumonia, which can cause chest pain. Pneumonia is an infection of the alveoli of your lungs. Your alveoli are the tiny air sacs where oxygen and carbon dioxide exchange occurs.

Experiencing throat and chest burning together can be a symptom of COVID-19. COVID-19 has been linked to symptoms like throat pain and acid reflux.

In an August 2020 study, researchers found that in a group of 405 people with COVID-19, 61.2 percent had digestive symptoms. About a quarter of them had a previous history of gastrointestinal disease.

The most common digestive symptoms reported were:

Many other conditions besides COVID-19 can cause burning or pain in your throat and chest. Some potential causes include:

Some people with COVID-19 may experience a burning feeling in their stomach and chest together. Vomiting, acid reflux, and diarrhea may all contribute to discomfort in or around your stomach.

Some other potential causes include:

Medical emergency

The CDC lists the following as emergency symptoms of COVID-19. If you notice any of these symptoms or anything else concerning, you should seek emergency medical care:

  • trouble breathing
  • new confusion
  • inability to wake or stay awake
  • lips, nails, and skin that are pale gray or blue
  • persistent chest pain or pressure
Native AmericanAsianBlack or African AmericanHispanic or Latino
Cases1.6x0.7x1.1x2.0x
Hospitalization3.5x1.0x2.8x3.0x
Death2.4x1.0x1.9x2.3x

The most common symptoms of COVID-19 include:

Other frequently reported symptoms include:

It’s estimated that between 17.9 and 33.3 percent of people with a coronavirus infection don’t develop symptoms.

Researchers are continuing to examine the side effects of COVID-19 vaccines. Vaccines can potentially cause a burning sensation in the chest in rare instances. The most typical side effects of vaccines include:

  • pain
  • redness and swelling at the site of the vaccination
  • tiredness
  • headache
  • muscle pain
  • chills
  • fever
  • nausea

One June 2021 case study describes a 56-year-old man who went to the emergency room after chest pain onset 3 days after the second dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.

The chest pain resolved after 4 hours. The man spent 7 days in the hospital, and acute myocarditis was suspected. Acute myocarditis is inflammation of the heart muscle tissue.

Skin-related side effects of COVID-19 are relatively common. An April 2021 study looking at side effects of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine in Czech healthcare workers found that 5.2 percent of people experience at least one skin-related side effect.

A rash was the most common side effect, and the chest and trunk were the second most common location affected behind the arms.

A burning sensation in your chest has many possible causes. If your chest pain is persistent and accompanied by other COVID-19 symptoms, it’s a good idea to seek medical attention.

If your pain is accompanied by any of the following symptoms, it’s also a good idea to see a doctor:

  • pain that spreads to your arms, neck, shoulders, or back
  • shortness of breath
  • extreme fatigue
  • rapid or abnormal heartbeat
  • dizziness
  • nausea and vomiting
  • pressure or burning in the middle or left side of your chest
  • any other concerning symptoms

Chest pain or burning can potentially be a sign of COVID-19. Chest pain is more common in people with severe COVID-19 than mild illness.

A burning sensation in your chest can have many other potential causes that range from mild to potentially life threatening. It’s critical to seek emergency medical attention if your chest pain is accompanied by warning signs of a heart attack, such as pain that spreads down your arm, neck, or back.