Chest Pain Causes
Chest pain has many possible causes, most of which deserve medical attention.
Chest pain may be felt anywhere from your neck to your upper abdomen. Depending on its cause, a chest pain may be:
- Crushing sensation
Chest pains may originate from the heart but it can also come from digestive problems, muscles, bones, cartilage, respiratory, psychological, and diseases. Let’s go through the causes one at a time.
- Angina: When cholesterol-containing plaque builds up on the inner walls of the arteries it can restrict the flow of blood carrying oxygen to your heart. This reduced blood flow can cause recurrent episodes of chest pain – angina pectoris, or angina, particularly during exertion. Fortunately the chest pain from angina causes little or no permanent damage to the heart and rest relieves the pain.
- Myocardial infarction or heart attack: This is typically the result of a blood clot that blocks the flow of blood to your heart muscle. The reduced blood flow through blood vessels in the heart causes damage and death to heart muscle cells. Although similar to angina, a heart attack is usually a more severe and is accompanied by a crushing pain that is not relieved by rest. It may also be accompanied by sweating, nausea, and severe weakness.
- Myocarditis: Inflammation of the heart muscle can also cause chest pain. Although no blockage exists, myocarditis symptoms can resemble those of a heart attack. In addition to chest pain, inflammation of the heart muscle may also cause fever, fatigue, and trouble breathing.
- Pericarditis: When the sac around the heart becomes infected and inflamed it is called Pericarditis. This can cause a pain similar to that caused by angina. However, it often causes a sharp, steady pain along the upper neck and shoulder muscles. It may get worse when you breathe, swallow food, or lie on your back. It is short-lived and often related to a viral infection.
- Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy: When the heart muscle becomes thickened it has to work harder to pump blood. Along with chest pain, this type of heart disorder may cause dizziness, lightheadedness, shortness of breath, and other symptoms.
- Mitral valve prolapse: This is a condition in which a valve in the heart fails to close properly. Mitral valve prolapse produces a variety of symptoms including chest pain, palpitations, and dizziness.
- Coronary artery dissection: If the inner layers of the main artery leading from your heart separate, it may force blood to flow between them, which could result in a sudden and tearing pain or ripping sensation in both the chest and the back. This life-threatening condition can result from a sharp blow to your chest or develop as a complication of uncontrolled high blood pressure.
- Coronary spasm: The arteries that supply blood to the heart can go into spasms, which can temporarily stop the flow of blood. This can occur while you are at rest and may coexist with coronary artery disease. Coronary spasms are sometimes called Prinzmetal’s angina.
- Heartburn or GERD: When stomach acid backs up from your stomach into the tube (esophagus) that runs from your throat to your stomach it can cause heartburn – a painful, burning sensation behind your breastbone (sternum).
- Esophageal spasm: When the tube that runs from your throat to your stomach spasms it can make swallowing difficult and even painful. When people with a certain type of esophageal spasm swallow, the muscles that normally move food down the esophagus are uncoordinated, which can results in painful muscle spasms in the chest.
- Achalasia (ak-uh-LA-zhuh): This is a swallowing disorder where the valve in the lower esophagus doesn’t open properly to allow food to enter your stomach. Instead, the food backs up into the esophagus, causing chest pain.
- Hiatal hernia: This is a condition where part of the stomach slides up above the diaphragm into the chest. This can cause pressure in the chest or pain as well as heartburn, particularly after eating.
- Gallbladder and pancreas problems: Inflammation in these organs can cause acute abdominal pain that radiates up into your chest.
- Perforated viscus: This is a hole or tear in the wall of any area of the gastrointestinal tract. This allows air to enter the abdominal cavity, which irritates the diaphragm, and can cause chest pain.
- Pulmonary embolism: When a blood clot becomes lodged in a lung (pulmonary) artery, it can block the flow of blood carrying oxygen to lung tissue. Fortunately this life-threatening condition is rare. It typically occurs from preceding risk factors, such as recent immobilization or surgery.
- Pleurisy: When the membrane that lines the chest cavity and surrounds the lungs becomes inflamed it can cause a sharp, localized chest pain that’s made worse when you inhale or cough. Pleurisy can result from a wide variety of underlying conditions including pneumonia and lupus (rare).
- Other lung conditions:
- Pneumothorax (Collapsed lung): A collapsed lung occurs when air enters the saclike space between the chest wall and the lung. When air enters this space the lung is unable to re-expand. This cuts off the oxygen supply to the body.
- Pulmonary hypertension: High blood pressure in the arteries carrying blood to the lungs.
Muscles Cartilage and Bone
- Costochondritis: Inflammation in the cartilage of your rib cage, particularly the cartilage that joins your ribs to your breastbone can result in chest pain. This is often worsened when you push on your sternum or on the ribs near your sternum. This condition is also known as Tietze syndrome.
- Sore muscles: Persistent muscle-related chest pain could also result from chronic pain syndromes such as fibromyalgia.
- Injuries: Chest pain can result from bruised or broken ribs, as well as from a pinched nerve.
Other Causes of Chest Pain
- Cancer: In rare cases, cancer may involve the chest or spread from another part of the body into the chest causing chest pain.
- Shingles: The chickenpox virus infects the nerves and can produce pain in a band of blisters from your back around to the chest wall.
- Panic attacks: Feelings of intense fear may be accompanied by chest pain, rapid heartbeat, rapid breathing (hyperventilation), profuse sweating and shortness of breath. Panic attacks are a form of anxiety.
Of course nothing is quite like the anxiety produced by chest pain. That feeling is warning you that you need medical attention. Do NOT ignore it. Your life may depend on finding out what is causing that pain. The only way to learn its cause is to have a doctor evaluate you. Please do that.
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