Chest pain. The first thing you may think of is heart attack. Certainly chest pain is not something to ignore. But you should know that it has many possible causes. In fact, as much as a quarter of the U.S. population experiences chest pain that is not related to the heart. Chest pain may also be caused by problems in your lungs, esophagus, muscles, ribs, or nerves, for example. Some of these conditions are serious and life threatening. Others are not. If you have unexplained chest pain, the only way to confirm its cause is to have a doctor evaluate you.
You may feel chest pain anywhere from your neck to your upper abdomen. Depending on its cause, chest pain may be:
It's safe to say most of us are not big fans of pain. Nevertheless, it is one of the body's most important communication tools. Imagine, for instance, what would happen if you felt nothing when you put your hand on a hot stove. Pain is one way the body tells you something's wrong and needs attention.
But pain -- whether it comes from a bee sting, a broken bone, or a long-term illness -- is also an unpleasant sensory and emotional experience. It has multiple causes, and people respond to it in multiple...
Here are some of the more common causes of chest pain.
Chest Pain Causes: Heart Problems
Although not the only cause of chest pain, these heart problems are common causes:
Coronary Artery Disease, or CAD. A blockage in the heart blood vessels that reduces blood flow and oxygen to the heart muscle itself. This can cause pain known as angina. It's a symptom of heart disease but typically does not cause permanent damage to the heart. It is, though, a sign that you are a candidate for a heart attack at some point in the future. The chest pain may spread to your arm, shoulder, jaw, or back. It may feel like a pressure or squeezing sensation. Angina can be triggered by exercise, excitement, or emotional distress and is relieved by rest.
Myocardial infarction (heart attack). This reduction in blood flow through heart blood vessels causes the death of heart muscle cells. Though similar to angina chest pain, a heart attack is usually a more severe, crushing pain usually in the center or left side of the chest and is not relieved by rest. Sweating, nausea, shortness of breath, or severe weakness may accompany the pain.
Pericarditis. This is an inflammation or infection of the sac around the heart. It can cause pain similar to that caused by angina. However, it often causes a sharp, steady pain along the upper neck and shoulder muscle. Sometimes it gets worse when you breathe, swallow food, or lie on your back.
Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. This genetic disease causes the heart muscle to grow abnormally thick. Sometimes this leads to problems with blood flow out of the heart. Chest pain and shortness of breath often occur with exercise. Over time, heart failure may occur when the heart muscle becomes very thickened. This makes the heart work harder to pump blood. Along with chest pain, this type of cardiomyopathy may cause dizziness, lightheadedness, fainting, and other symptoms.
Mitral valve prolapse. Mitral valve prolapse is a condition in which a valve in the heart fails to close properly. A variety of symptoms have been associated with mitral valve prolapse, including chest pain, palpitations, and dizziness, although it can also have no symptoms, especially if the prolapse is mild.
Coronary artery dissection. A variety of factors can cause this rare but deadly condition, which results when a tear develops in the coronary artery. It may cause a sudden severe pain with a tearing or ripping sensation that goes up into the neck, back, or abdomen.