Read below about chest pain, including causes, treatment options and remedies. Or get a personalized analysis of your chest pain from our A.I. health assistant. At Buoy, we build tools that help you know what’s wrong right now and how to get the right care.

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Chest Pain Symptoms

Chest pain is a tricky topic, as it could easily be as serious as a heart attac or it could be something as benign (relatively harmless) as an episode of heartburn. Your chest is home to your heart, lungs and esophagus – all protected by your ribs and the muscles between them. A problem in any of these can lead to chest pain.

Like most people, if you experience chest pain, your immediate thought might be "heart attack," regardless of the amount of spicy food you ate. In fact, a heart attack is one of the least common (but more dangerous) causes of chest pain. Most chest pain is due to stomach, muscle, or skeletal problems.

Chest pain has been described as:

Chest pain might be accompanied by nausea, vomiting, palpitations or feeling like you might faint.

Chest pain may, depending on the cause, get better with rest and worse with activity. It can also be exacerbated in cold environments or by emotional stress. It might hurt differently when you inhale than when you exhale – all dependent on what is causing the pain.

Chest Pain Causes Overview

Cardiovascular (heart related) causes of chest pain:

  • Any type of damage to the cells of your heart (as in the case of a heart attack), abnormality in the structure of your heart (as in mitral valve disease), or problems with your major blood vessels (such as a dissecting aortic aneurysm, or, the rupture of your aorta) can cause chest pain. Chest pain could be caused by an infection in or around your heart. These conditions can be lifethreatening and need immediate medical attention, especially if the pain is severe, associated with nausea, vomiting, sweating, shortness of breath, and feeling unwell or looking ill.

Chest pain pulmonary (lung/breathing) causes:

  • Exhale. Think about what it might feel like if one lung collapsed (pneumothorax), or your breathing was restricted because of a tumor, embolism (a blood clot in your lung), asthma, or other chronic breathing condition. These conditions either restrict airflow or cause inflammation – both leading to chest pain. This can also be caused by infections, such as pneumonia. If you have chest pain and are short of breath, you need to go to the emergency room and be seen right away.

Gastrointestinal (esophageal and stomach/digestive) causes of chest pain:

  • Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), causes a burning sensation in your chest, because your esophagus is exposed to the acid from your stomach. Related conditions – such as hiatal hernia and esophagitis – produce a similar sensation. Sometimes this is felt as a sharp pain behind the breastbone and can be associated with regurgitation or other digestive symptoms.

Musculoskeletal causes:

  • The small muscles between your ribs (intercostal muscles) help your chest expand when you take a deep breath. Injury to these muscles, much like tearing any muscle in your body, will produce pain. Like any other bone, broken ribs will cause pain. Usually this can be determined if you push on the muscles and they are tender or painful.

Psychological causes of chest pain:

  • Shortness of breath. Chest pain. Sweating. Numbness in your hands and arms. All are classic heart attack symptoms. A case of anxiety (or panic attack) causes symptoms so similar it is often difficult to distinguish between the two. Your doctor can help you through this and guide you to some ways to relax if this is the issue.

A.I. Health Assistant Causes for Chest Pain

Updated on Aug. 29, 2018

The list below shows results from the use of our A.I. Health Assistant by Buoy users who experienced chest pain. This list does not constitute medical advice.

  1. 1.Acid Reflux Disease (Gerd)

    Acid reflux disease, also known as GERD, occurs when the acidic contents of the stomach come back up into the esophagus. The most common symptoms are heartburn and regurgitation.

    With proper treatment, symptoms may be relieved within days & at most several weeks.

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    nausea, sore throat, pain below the ribs, cough with dry or watery sputum, deep chest pain, behind the breast bone
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor
  2. 2.Chest Pain From Reduced Cardiac Blood Flow (Angina Pectoris)

    Angina pectoris is chest pain that is felt when heart muscle needs more blood than it is currently getting. This may result from coronary artery disease (CAD). CAD happens when the arteries that supply blood to heart muscle become hardened and narrowed. This is due to the buildup of cholesterol and other material, called plaque, on their inner walls.

    Angina pectoris is reflective of underlying heart disease, which is a chronic condition once it develops.

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    chest pain, chest pain, tight, heavy, squeezing chest pain, moderate chest pain, deep chest pain, behind the breast bone
    Symptoms that always occur with chest pain from reduced cardiac blood flow (angina pectoris):
    chest pain
    Symptoms that never occur with chest pain from reduced cardiac blood flow (angina pectoris):
    productive cough
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor
  3. 3.Stomach Ulcer

    A peptic ulcer is a sore in the lining of the stomach or the first part of your small intestine (the duodenum), which causes pain following meals or on an empty stomach.

    2-4 weeks with treatment

    Rarity:
    Uncommon
    Top Symptoms:
    fatigue, nausea, loss of appetite, moderate abdominal pain, abdominal cramps (stomach cramps)
    Symptoms that never occur with stomach ulcer:
    pain in the lower left abdomen
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor
  4. 4.Atypical Chest Pain

    Atypical chest pain describes the situation when someone's chest pain is unlikely to be related to heart or lung disease. There are many other possible causes that could explain chest pain, like sore chest wall muscles or psychological factors like stress and anxiety.

    Recovery time depends on the underlying cause.

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    chest pain, shortness of breath
    Symptoms that always occur with atypical chest pain:
    chest pain
    Symptoms that never occur with atypical chest pain:
    fever
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor
  5. 5.Myocarditis

    The myocardium is the muscular tissue that makes up the walls of the heart, allowing it to contract and push blood throughout the body. Myocarditis is the condition when this muscular tissue becomes inflamed, often as a result of an infection, causing the heart to struggle to pump blood.

    If myocarditis has not damaged the heart too much, expect a 2-3 week course of medication to treat infection.

    Rarity:
    Rare
    Top Symptoms:
    fatigue, headache, shortness of breath, muscle aches, chest pain
    Urgency:
    Hospital emergency room

    Chest Pain Checker

    Take a quiz to find out why you’re having chest pain.

    Chest Pain Quiz
  6. 6.Acute Costochondritis (Chest Wall Syndrome)

    Costochondritis is an inflammation of the cartilage that connects a rib to the breastbone. Pain caused by costochondritis may mimic that of a heart attack or other heart conditions.

    Costochondritis is generally self-limiting but may take several weeks to go away.

    Rarity:
    Uncommon
    Top Symptoms:
    rib pain, chest pain that is worse when breathing, chest pain, rib pain when moving, pain when pressing on the chest
    Urgency:
    Phone call or in-person visit
  7. 7.Heart Attack

    Most heart attacks happen when a clot in the coronary artery blocks the supply of blood and oxygen to the heart. Often this leads to an irregular heartbeat - called an arrhythmia - that causes a severe decrease in the pumping function of the heart.

    Indefinite

    Rarity:
    Uncommon
    Top Symptoms:
    chest pain, shortness of breath, tight, heavy, squeezing chest pain, being severely ill, nausea
    Urgency:
    Emergency medical service
  8. 8.Pericarditis (Inflammation Surrounding the Heart)

    Pericarditis is a condition in which the membrane, or sac, around the heart is inflamed. This sac is called the pericardium.

    2 weeks

    Rarity:
    Rare
    Top Symptoms:
    fatigue, chest pain, being severely ill, fever, deep chest pain, behind the breast bone
    Symptoms that always occur with pericarditis (inflammation surrounding the heart):
    being severely ill
    Urgency:
    Hospital emergency room
  9. 9.Pulmonary Embolism

    A pulmonary embolism is a sudden blockage in an artery in the lungs. It is a serious condition that can cause permanent damage to the affected lung, low oxygen levels in your blood, or damage to other organs in your body from not getting enough oxygen.

    A pulmonary embolism is life-threatening. Recovery depends on treatment.

    Rarity:
    Uncommon
    Top Symptoms:
    shortness of breath, cough, rib pain that gets worse when breathing, coughing, sneezing, or laughing, fever, wheezing
    Urgency:
    Emergency medical service
  10. 10.Collapsed Lung (Pneumothorax)

    A collapsed lung happens when air enters the pleural space, the area between the lung and the chest wall. If it is a total collapse, it is called pneumothorax.

    2-3 days

    Rarity:
    Rare
    Top Symptoms:
    rib pain, rib pain on one side, shortness of breath, rib pain that gets worse when breathing, coughing, sneezing, or laughing, chest pain that gets worse when breathing or coughing
    Urgency:
    Hospital emergency room

Chest Pain Treatments and Relief

  • Don't mess around with chest pain. If your chest pain is being caused by a life-threatening condition, prompt emergency medical evaluation and care could save your life.

Seek immediate medical care if you have chest pain and:

Not all chest pain is equal. Even when caused by a condition that is not life-threatening, chest pain can still be unsettling and uncomfortable. While you can expect to need professional medical care for heart and lung conditions, other conditions, such as heartburn or costochondritis (strains or tears in the muscles between your ribs) can be managed at home with over-the-counter medications.

It can be hard for you to know whether or not your chest pain is life-threatening. Err on the side of caution. Any new chest pain warrants a trip to the emergency room.

FAQs About Chest Pain

Here are some frequently asked questions about chest pain.

Can stress cause chest pain?

Yes, stress can cause chest pain by increasing heart rate and placing additional stress on the heart. This is especially true for individuals with cardiovascular disease (clogged arteries). Extreme emotional stress can also cause — but rarely — the temporary shut down of the muscle cells in an area of the heart. This is called broken heart syndrome or Takotsubo Syndrome.

What causes chest pain?

Chest pain is caused by a variety of things. It can be caused by inflammation or damage to the esophagus, the lungs, the lining of the lungs, the airway, or the heart. The most concerning causes of chest pain include blood clots that have travelled to the lungs, a tear in the esophagus that is prone to profuse bleeding, a heart attack, or a tear in the aorta.

How to know if chest pains are serious?

If you have chest pain or chest pressure at rest, or that worsens with exertion and is consistent over time, or if you have any signs of dizziness, nausea, sweating, numbness or tingling, or confusion or change in vision, then you should visit an emergency room. Chest pain associated with any change in your senses, breathing, or state of consciousness may be signs of inadequate blood flow and point to serious problems in circulation.

What causes chest pain on the right side?

Chest pain on the right side can be caused by a heart attack just as frequently as chest pain on the left side. Chest pain on the right side of the body may also be due to pneumonia, broken ribs, torn or strained muscles, viral infections causing infiltration of the lungs on the right side of the body, heartburn or stomach acid in the esophagus, or gallbladder, liver, and pancreas issues.

When should you see a doctor for chest pain?

You should see a doctor for chest pain if it is severe, if it is regular, or if it is accompanied by any other symptoms. If you have dizziness, shortness of breath, or severe chest pain you should visit an emergency room. If there is a known cause and the pain does not recur, then it may not be appropriate to see a doctor. For example, if you eat acidic food or very spicy food and suffer from heartburn which goes away with antacids, you may not need to visit a physician. If the pain occurs in the absence of a change in diet or is caused by increased activity, you should seek medical evaluation.

Questions Your Doctor May Ask About Chest Pain

  • Q.Do you have a cough?
  • Q.Do you notice your heart beating hard, rapidly, or irregularly (also called palpitations)?
  • Q.Any fever today or during the last week?
  • Q.Have you been feeling more tired than usual, lethargic or fatigued despite sleeping a normal amount?

If you've answered yes to one or more of these questions, try our chest pain symptom checker to find out more.

Chest Pain Quiz

Chest Pain Symptom Checker Statistics

  • People who have experienced chest pain have also experienced:

    • 6% Rib Pain
    • 5% Cough
    • 5% Shortness of Breath
  • People who have experienced chest pain had symptoms persist for:

    • 46% Less Than a Day
    • 26% Less Than a Week
    • 13% Over a Month
  • People who have experienced chest pain were most often matched with:

    • 36% Chest Pain From Reduced Cardiac Blood Flow (Angina Pectoris)
    • 36% Stomach Ulcer
    • 27% Acid Reflux Disease (Gerd)
  • Source: Aggregated and anonymized results from visits to the Buoy AI health assistant (check it out by clicking on “Take Quiz”).

A.I. Health Assistant

Take a quiz to find out why you’re having chest pain

Chest Pain Quiz