March 28, 2019
Chest pain—sometimes a nuisance, sometimes serious…always scary. Because chest pain takes a variety of forms like burning, tightness, sharpness, or aching, being able to identify and articulate the type of pain is vital to discovering its source.
While the most common signs of a heart attack – shortness of breath, a cold sweat, fatigue, nausea, or pressure in the chest and arms that spreads to the neck, back, or jaw – are well-known, there are a variety of other, less-known causes of chest pain that are helpful to be aware of.
Though heartburn has nothing to do with the actual heart, its symptoms can mimic certain heart attack symptoms. Heartburn is typically caused by issues with the esophagus, allowing stomach acid to leak upwards creating a burning sensation in the chest. This type of chest pain is often caused by overeating, but can also be caused by obesity, pregnancy, and stress. Other symptoms of heartburn include a burning in the throat, a sour taste, difficulty swallowing, or the feeling of food being “stuck” in the middle of the chest or throat. If heartburn is the suspected cause of chest pain, avoid alcohol and acidic foods like onions, citrus, and coffee.
For someone already experiencing high levels of stress and anxiety, chest pain can be a huge source of concern. These high levels of tension, though, can actually be what’s creating the chest pain in the first place. During an anxiety attack, the body produces so much adrenaline that the chest tightens and breathing becomes difficult. In fact, approximately one quarter of patients who visit the emergency room for treatment of chest pain are later diagnosed with panic disorder. If anxiety is believed to be the cause of the chest pain, s professional should be consulted to develop a mental health improvement plan.
Effecting roughly 8.3 percent of Americans, asthma is one of the leading causes of chest pain. By creating chronic inflammation in the lungs and airways, asthma leads to coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath, and chest tightness. These symptoms can be triggered by exercise, illness (like a chest cold or flu), allergens, or irritants in the air like smoke or chemical fumes. Fortunately, asthma can typically be well controlled with anti-inflammatory medications that normalize and control lung function.
Pneumonia is an infection that causes the lungs to fill with fluid, making it difficult to breathe. This tension causes severe chest pain, especially for elderly people, children, and those with compromised immune systems. Chest pain associated with pneumonia is typically sharp and stabbing, primarily occurring when a person coughs of inhales deeply. Other symptoms include low appetite, lethargy, fast heartrate, and a fever higher than 105 F. Because it can be deadly if left untreated, people who suspect pneumonia as the root of their chest pain should seek a doctor prescribed antibiotic regimen immediately.
When the cartilage that connects the ribs to the breastbone is inflamed, called costochondritis, severe chest pain may occur. People experiencing costochondritis typically experience sharp, stabbing pains, accompanied by a tenderness of the ribs. Although in many cases doctors are unable to pinpoint its exact cause, things like bacterial infections, respiratory infections, and overuse of the arms during physical activity can all lead to costochondritis. While there is no medical treatment for costochondritis, a doctor can determine a pain-relief method to make a patient more comfortable as their body heals. These methods include anti-inflammatory drugs, NSAIDs, rest, and a warm compress.
If you experience intense or worsening chest pain, call 9-1-1 for immediate emergency assistance. To prevent diseases related to chronic chest pain and eliminate risk factors for serious ailments, take a well-rounded approach to healthcare by eating well and getting enough exercise.
This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. The information on this web site is for general information purposes only. Always seek the advice of your physician or health care provider on any matters relating to your health.