Chest pain appears in many forms, ranging from a sharp stab to a dull ache. Sometimes chest pain feels crushing or burning. In certain cases, the pain travels up the neck, into the jaw, and then radiates to the back or down one or both arms.
Many different problems can cause chest pain. The most life-threatening causes involve the heart or lungs and because chest pain can indicate a serious problem, it’s important to seek immediate medical help. Chest pain can cause many different sensations depending on what’s triggering the symptom. Often, the cause has nothing to do with your heart — though there’s no easy way to tell without seeing a doctor.
In general, chest pains related to a heart attack or another heart problem may be described as or associated with pressure, fullness, burning or tightness in your chest, Crushing or tearing pain that radiates to your back, neck, jaw, shoulders, and one or both arms, Pain that lasts more than a few minutes, gets worse with activity, goes away and comes back, or varies in intensity, Shortness of breath, Cold sweat, Nausea, Dizziness or weakness.
Chest pain that is less likely due to a heart problem is more often associated with a sour taste or a sensation of food re-entering your mouth, trouble swallowing, pain that gets better or worse when you change your body position, pain that intensifies when you breathe deeply or cough, tenderness when you push on your chest and pain that is persistently present for many hours.
What Might Be The Cause?
Chest pain has many possible causes ranging from heart-related causes, general problems, lung disorders , disorders of the digestive system, injuries and other problems affecting the structures that make up the chest wall, such as:
Heart attack. A heart attack results from blocked blood flow, often from a blood clot, to the heart muscle.
Angina. Angina is the term for chest pain caused by poor blood flow to the heart. This is often caused by the buildup of thick plaques on the inner walls of the arteries that carry blood to the heart. These plaques narrow the arteries and restrict the heart’s blood supply, particularly during exertion.
Aortic dissection. This life-threatening condition involves the main artery leading from the heart (aorta). If the inner layers of this blood vessel separate, blood is forced between the layers and can cause the aorta to rupture.
Pericarditis. This is the inflammation of the sac surrounding the heart. It usually causes sharp pain that gets worse when breathe in or when lie down.
Heartburn. This painful, burning sensation behind the breastbone occurs when stomach acid washes up from the stomach into the tube that connects the throat to stomach (esophagus)
Gastro-esophageal reflux disease (GERD). This is a condition that can cause someone to experience chest pains. It occurs when there is a problem with the esophageal sphincter, which allows acidic food content in the stomach to move back up to the esophagus.
Swallowing disorders. Disorders of the esophagus can make swallowing difficult and even painful.
Gallbladder or pancreas problems. Gallstones or inflammation of your gallbladder or pancreas can cause abdominal pain that radiates to your chest.
Costochondritis. In this condition, the cartilage of your rib cage, particularly the cartilage that joins your ribs to your breastbone, becomes inflamed and painful.
Sore muscles. Chronic pain syndromes, such as fibromyalgia, can produce persistent muscle-related chest pain.
Injured ribs. A bruised or broken rib can cause chest pain.
Pulmonary embolism. This occurs when a blood clot becomes lodged in a lung (pulmonary) artery, blocking blood flow to lung tissue.
Pleurisy. If the membrane that covers the lungs becomes inflamed, it can cause chest pain that worsens when inhale or cough.
Collapsed lung. The chest pain associated with a collapsed lung typically begins suddenly and can last for hours, and is generally associated with shortness of breath. A collapsed lung occurs when air leaks into the space between the lung and the ribs.
Pulmonary hypertension. This condition occurs when there is high blood pressure in the arteries carrying blood to the lungs, which can produce chest pain.
Panic attack. If there is periods of intense fear accompanied by chest pain, a rapid heartbeat, rapid breathing, profuse sweating, shortness of breath, nausea, dizziness and a fear of dying, their may be experiencing a panic attack.
Shingles. Caused by a reactivation of the chickenpox virus, shingles can produce pain and a band of blisters from the back around to the chest wall.
Treatment varies depending on what’s causing your chest pain. Drugs used to treat some of the most common causes of chest pain include:
Artery relaxers. Nitroglycerin — usually taken as a tablet under the tongue — relaxes heart arteries, so blood can flow more easily through the narrowed spaces. Some blood pressure medicines also relax and widen blood vessels.
Aspirin. If doctors suspect that your chest pain is related to your heart, you’ll likely be given aspirin
Thrombolytic drugs. If you are having a heart attack, you may receive these clot-busting drugs. These work to dissolve the clot that is blocking blood from reaching your heart muscle.
Blood thinners. If you have a clot in an artery feeding your heart or lungs, you’ll be given drugs that inhibit blood clotting to prevent the formation of more clots.
Acid-suppressing medications. If your chest pain is caused by stomach acid splashing into your esophagus, the doctor may suggest medications that reduce the amount of acid in your stomach.
Antidepressants. If you’re experiencing panic attacks, your doctor may prescribe antidepressants to help control your symptoms. Psychological therapy, such as cognitive behavioral therapy, also might be recommended.
Surgical procedures may also be used to treat some of the most dangerous causes of chest pain and they include;
Angioplasty and stent placement. If your chest pain is caused by a blockage in an artery feeding your heart, your doctor will insert a catheter with a balloon on the end into a large blood vessel in your groin, and thread it up to the blockage. Your doctor will inflate the balloon tip to widen the artery, then deflate and remove the catheter. In most cases, a small wire mesh tube (stent) is placed on the outside of the balloon tip of the catheter. When expanded, the stent locks into place to keep the artery open.
Bypass surgery. During this procedure, surgeons take a blood vessel from another part of your body and use it to create an alternative route for blood to go around the blocked artery.
Dissection repair. You may need emergency surgery to repair an aortic dissection — a life-threatening condition in which the artery that carries blood from your heart to the rest of your body ruptures.
Lung reinflation. If you have a collapsed lung, doctors may insert a tube in your chest to reinflate the lung.