If you have chest pain on the left side, your first thought may be that you’re having a heart attack. While chest pain can be a symptom of heart problems, that’s not always the case.

Keep reading to learn more about the causes of pain in the left side of the chest, the accompanying symptoms, suggestions for actions you can take to address each, and other signs of life threatening conditions to watch out for.

Several conditions can cause pain in the left side of your chest. They range from benign to life threatening.

If you’re ever in doubt about the cause of the pain in the left side of your chest, seek emergency medical services immediately.

Below are some common causes of left-sided chest pain.

  1. Angina (chest pain): This is often a symptom of coronary heart disease, though other heart conditions may also cause it. The pain and discomfort typically include your left arm, left shoulder, left side of your neck, and left side of your jaw. You might also have discomfort in your back.
  2. Heart attack: Some heart attacks start with mild chest pain that builds up slowly. They can also start quite abruptly, with intense pain on the left side or center of your chest.
  3. Myocarditis:This can lead to cardiovascular disease due to inflammation in the heart. Doctors often cannot identify a cause, but when they can, the cause is typically a viral infection.
  4. Cardiomyopathy: This is a disease of the heart muscle or enlarged heart. It’s possible to have cardiomyopathy without symptoms, but it can also cause chest pain.
  5. Pericarditis: This can cause a sharp pain on the left side or middle of your chest. You might also have pain in one or both shoulders. You may experience pericarditis due to infections, heart surgery, heart attack, injury, or medications.
  6. Panic attack: This can come on abruptly and tends to peak within 10 minutes. Due to chest pain, chest tightness, and other symptoms, a panic attack can simulate a heart attack.
  7. Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD): GERD can cause heartburn and acid reflux. Among the symptoms, it can cause a burning sensation in your upper abdomen and chest.
  8. Hiatal hernia: This is when the upper part of your stomach pushes through the large muscle between your abdomen and chest (diaphragm). The symptoms can include chest pain.
  9. Problems with your esophagus: This can include muscle spasms, esophagitis, or an esophageal rupture.
  10. Muscle or chest wall injury: Chest pain can result from pulled, strained, or sprained muscles in your chest or between the ribs. If you believe you’ve broken a bone, see a doctor right away. It can take about 10 weeks to improve and even longer to fully heal. In the meantime, you’ll have to avoid strenuous activity.
  11. Collapsed lung (pneumothorax): This can be caused by disease or trauma to your chest, leading to sudden and sharp pain on either side of your chest.
  12. Pneumonia: This can cause sharp or stabbing chest pain that worsens when you take a deep breath or cough. It’s more likely if you’ve recently had a respiratory illness like bronchitis or influenza.
  13. Lung cancer: Chest pain can be a symptom of lung cancer. That said, symptoms may not appear in early-stage lung cancer. Generally, the sooner you receive a diagnosis and treatment, the better the outcome.
  14. Pulmonary hypertension: This is high blood pressure in your lungs, which can cause chest pain, among other symptoms.
  15. Pulmonary embolism (PE): This is a blood clot in your lungs, which can cause sudden, sharp chest pain. It’s a medical emergency that calls for immediate treatment.
  16. Aortic dissection: An aortic dissection occurs when the aorta’s pressure or weakness causes it to split, leading to blood leaking into other parts of the body. This is life threatening and needs emergency medical attention.

Chest pain, or chest heaviness, in general, is a concern for a heart attack or other life threatening condition for which every minute matters.

Call 911 or your local emergency services if you or someone near you has unexplained left-sided or generalized chest pain along with the following:

Heart attack

According to the CDC, most heart attacks involve discomfort in the middle or left side of your chest that lasts for more than a couple of minutes. The discomfort may go away and then return again.

Other symptoms of heart attack can include:

  • tightening, squeezing, or crushing pressure in your chest
  • pain in your left arm, though it can also occur in your right arm
  • shooting pain in your neck, jaw, back, or stomach
  • shortness of breath
  • heartburn, nausea, or vomiting
  • lightheadedness, weakness, or dizziness

Both males and females can experience chest pain and other common symptoms, but females may also experience fatigue, nausea, and lightheadedness.

[the terms “male” and “female”]

In this article, we use “male and female” to refer to someone’s sex as determined by their chromosomes, and “men and women” when referring to their gender (unless quoting from sources using nonspecific language).

Sex is determined by chromosomes, and gender is a social construct that can vary between time periods and cultures. Both of these aspects are acknowledged to exist on a spectrum both historically and by modern scientific consensus.

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Pulmonary embolism

In addition to chest pain, other symptoms of PE may include:

  • back pain
  • lightheadedness
  • bluish tone to lips
  • excessive sweating
  • dizziness
  • coughing
  • shortness of breath

Aortic dissection

Other than chest pain, an aortic dissection may cause:

Ultimately, if not treated immediately, it can progress to hemorrhagic shock from heavy blood loss.

Should I go to the hospital for left chest pain?

Chest pain or discomfort is one of the primary symptoms of a heart attack. If you’re experiencing any kind of chest pain, call 911 and follow the dispatcher’s instructions.

If other people are around, ask them to stay with you until emergency medical services (EMS) workers arrive. Calling 911 is typically the best path to emergency care as EMS workers can revive people who may be experiencing heart attacks and transport them faster than a friend might to the hospital.

Get immediate medical attention

If you or someone around you experiences the symptoms of a heart attack or pulmonary embolism, call emergency services immediately.

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How do I know if my chest pain is serious?

Sudden chest pain is a serious symptom. Call 911 if you or someone near you is experiencing a feeling of pain, pressure, or tightening of the chest, especially if you’re also experiencing other symptoms.

How do you know if your chest pain is muscular or heart-related?

Heart pain and muscular chest pain can be similar, but there are some key differences.

Heart pain may feel more like a sensation of tightness or pressure across the chest. Sometimes, a sharp pain may radiate down your neck, jaws, arms, and shoulders. You may also experience shortness of breath, dizziness, sweating, nausea, and an irregular heartbeat. Heart pain does not change when you take a deep breath. A lot of times, heart pain worsens with activity or exertion.

Muscular chest pain that occurs as a result of a strain or overuse may feel sharp or achy. The muscle that has been strained may also be tender to the touch and feel worse with movement or coughing. Deep breathing may also cause shooting pain if the strained muscle is near your lungs.

What are three common causes of chest pain?

Three common causes of chest pain are angina, coronary artery disease (CAD), and heartburn.

How can I relieve left-side chest pain?

The treatment for left-sided chest pain depends on the cause. You can probably treat something minor, like heartburn, with over-the-counter medications in most cases. More serious causes will require medical treatment, sometimes even emergency treatment or surgery.

Several conditions share symptoms that include chest pain. If you have chest pain for no known reason, consult with a doctor so you can start working toward a diagnosis.

Sudden chest pain accompanied by symptoms such as trouble breathing, pressure on your chest, and dizziness could signal a life threatening emergency. Call 911 immediately.