Common Causes of Chest Pain

Posted by SnapDev on Friday, February 2, 2018
Updated on: Tuesday, March 10, 2020
Keywords: chest pain

Chest pain is one of the more common symptoms that require people to visit an urgent care facility to receive medical treatment. When most people think about chest pain, their minds immediately leap to heart attacks. But while chest pain is a symptom of suffering a heart attack, more often than not, chest pain indicates an issue that is not related to the heart. Chest pain can be caused by health issues in your lungs, esophagus, muscles, ribs, or nerves.

Familiarizing yourself with the various causes of chest pain and subsequent chest pain treatment will better prepare you for what to expect in the event that you experience this symptom. Let’s take a closer look at chest pain and the various sources of this discomfort that might lead you to seek urgent medical care.

What Does Chest Pain Feel Like? 

Despite what people might assume, chest pain isn’t limited to the immediate chest cavity. Chest pain can be experienced anywhere from a person’s neck to the upper portion of their abdomen. This pain can feel like any of the following:

  • Crushing
  • Squeezing
  • Ripping
  • Stabbing
  • Tightness
  • Burning
  • Aching
  • Sharp
  • Dull
  • Constant
  • Intermittent

To help you identify the source of your chest pain, and to provide you with a suggested treatment solution, here are some of the common causes of chest pain that we see here at the Urgency Room.

Heart Problems That Cause Chest Pain

There’s a variety of serious causes of chest pain that are related to your heart. They include:

Heart Attack: A blockage of blood flow in the arteries that bring blood to the heart. 

  • Angina: A type of chest pain that occurs because your heart isn’t getting enough blood flow. This is due to narrowing of the blood vessels that feed the heart. Often, this pain will come on with activity and get better with rest.
  • Pericarditis: Inflammation and irritation of the thin membrane that surrounds the heart (pericardium). 
  • Myocarditis: Inflammation occurring in the middle layer of the heart wall. Typically caused by a viral infection. 
  • Cardiomyopathy: An abnormality of the structure of the heart that decreases heart function. When the heart is not able to pump blood to the body properly, this is called heart failure.
  • Aortic Dissection: A tear in the inner layer of the large blood vessel that carries blood from the heart through the chest and abdomen to the legs. With this problem, patients commonly have chest pain and back pain together.

Gastrointestinal Problems That Cause Chest Pain

Most people don’t think about the stomach and GI tract when they experience chest pain, but these areas are actually common sources of chest discomfort. The following are gastrointestinal causes of chest pain:

  • Acid Reflux: A digestive disease in which stomach acid or bile irritates the lining of the esophagus (food pipe). Pain usually occurs after eating or when lying down at night. Acid reflux is commonly referred to as heartburn. Sometimes, acid reflux causes minor heart burn or indigestion but other times it can cause more severe chest pain.
  • Gallstones: The gallbladder is a small pouch by the liver in the upper right abdomen that stores extra digestive juices. Sometimes, the digestive juices will harden into gallstones.  Gallstones may not show symptoms but commonly cause upper abdominal pain, right upper back pain, or chest pain after eating. Gallstones that cause symptoms may need surgical removal.
  • Cholecystitis: An infection of the gallbladder. This is commonly caused by stones that block the tube leading from the gallbladder to the small intestine. An infected gallbladder requires surgical removal. 

Lung Problems That Cause Chest Pain

There are a number of lung-related issues that can cause chest pain. They include:

  • Pneumonia: An infection in one or both lungs. Sometimes pneumonia causes the lungs to fill with fluid. This infection can be very serious if contracted by young children and elderly people.
  • Viral Bronchitis: Inflammation of the lining of the bronchial tubes, which carry air to and from the lungs. 
  • Pneumothorax: Also known as a collapsed lung, pneumothorax is a condition that occurs when air leaks into the space between the lungs and chest wall. 
  • Pulmonary Embolism: A condition in which one or more arteries in the lungs become blocked by a blood clot, restricting the amount of blood flow in the lungs. 

Muscle and Bone Problems That Cause Chest Pain

Most muscle and bone-related problems that feature chest pain can be identified as injuries or inflammation in the chest wall. 

  • Bruised or Broken Ribs: Rib injuries heal on their own but can be very painful and often make breathing difficult. 
  • Sore Chest Muscles: After a strenuous exertion of your chest muscles, a tight soreness can be experienced.  The muscles in the chest wall include the bigger pectoralis muscles as well as the small muscles located between each of the ribs.  These muscles may become sore from new, strenuous activities but this may also become sore because of more insidious causes such as coughing or poor posture.
  • Costochondritis: Inflammation in the cartilage that attaches the ribs to the breast bone.  This type of pain can often be reproduced by pushing along the ribs.

Diagnosing Chest Pain

When it doubt, it’s always recommended to play it safe and seek medical attention if you’re experiencing chest pain. Many of the causes of chest pain that we have listed here require medical testing and imaging to identify, and can’t be diagnosed by symptoms alone. 

There are particular types of chest pain for which you should immediately seek medical attention. They include: 

  • A sudden feeling of pressure, squeezing, tightness, or crushing under your breastbone.
  • Chest pain that spreads to your jaw, left arm, or back.
  • Sudden sharp chest pain that is accompanied by shortness of breath, especially after a long period of inactivity.
  • Chest pain accompanied by nausea, dizziness, rapid heart rate or rapid breathing, confusion, ashen color, or excessive sweating.
  • Any prolonged period of chest pain. 
  • Chest pain associated with fainting

Diagnostic Tests

When you seek medical attention for your chest pain, your doctor will likely run a series of diagnostic tests in order to isolate the cause of your symptoms—or at least eliminate certain possibilities. Those tests include everything from an electrocardiogram, (commonly called an EKG) to measure your heart’s electrical activity, to blood tests or a chest x-ray. Many of these tests are geared towards examining your heart muscle and functions. 

If initial testing doesn’t identify the source of your chest pain, your doctor may order some follow-up tests, such as a CT scan, stress test, or echocardiogram. Once the reason for your chest pain or discomfort has been determined, your doctor can recommend a treatment plan.

Chest Pain Treatment

As you’ve seen, there’s quite a variety of sources of chest pain. Depending on the exact cause of the chest pain, the treatment options and severity of the issue can vary quite drastically. 

Medications

Your doctor may prescribe or administer medication to deal with the cause of your chest pain. If you’re having a heart attack, for example, you’ll likely be given aspirin. Blood thinners can also be used to prevent subsequent clots from forming. Medications may be given to lower your blood pressure or increase blood flow to the heart.

Different medications will be prescribed to deal with other causes of chest pain. For example, acid-suppressing medications to ease acid reflux or anti-inflammatory medications to treat inflammation of the chest wall. 

Other Treatments for Chest Pain

If you are determined to have had a heart attack, you will be admitted to the hospital to consult with a cardiologist about additional testing or procedures.

The Urgency Room for Chest Pain

Don’t let the long wait times associated with receiving emergency medical care keep you from seeing a physician for your chest pain. At The Urgency Room, you won’t spend hours sitting in a crowded waiting room as your symptoms worsen. In fact, you can find out exactly how long your wait time will be before you arrive by checking online. When you visit any of our three Urgency Room locations, you’ll find a facility outfitted with state-of-the-art equipment. We have a wonderful staff that is friendly and accommodating during your visit, and a top-notch group of experienced emergency room physicians to diagnose and treat the cause of your chest pain. If we determine that you are having a serious heart problem, we will work to directly admit you to the hospital of your choice for further care.  In the most severe cases, we will get you to see the cardiologist right away. If you’d like to take a closer look at all we have to offer, check out this virtual tour of a typical Urgency Room.

If you’re in the Minneapolis/Saint Paul area or any of the surrounding suburbs, head to your nearest Urgency Room in Eagan, Vadnais Heights or Woodbury. Regardless of the severity of your chest pain, our board-certified physicians will work to identify the source and provide you with the treatment necessary to get you back on the path to recovery. Your health is our priority, and we’re pleased to offer speedy urgent care that allows you to skip crowded intake rooms and avoid waiting endless hours just to be seen. When minutes matter, come to The Urgency Room for your comprehensive health needs.

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