anxious woman in crowd
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Panic Attack

This can feel like a heart attack. Besides chest pain, you may be short of breath, feel your heart race, or go numb in your hands or feet. Some people feel dizzy or worry that they’re about to die. A stressful event can bring it on, or it could come out of the blue. Panic attacks can be hard to manage on your own. They can get worse if you don’t get help with them.

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shingles skin rash
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Shingles

If you have chest pain along with a painful rash and blisters on your chest or back, you could have this illness, which is caused by the chickenpox virus. If the nerves of your chest wall are affected, the pain there can be severe. Shingles can clear up on its own, but your doctor can give you medicine to help with your symptoms or make it go away faster.

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hiatal hernia illustration
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Hernia

Underneath your lungs, there’s a small area where your stomach and esophagus (your food pipe) meet. Coughing, heavy lifting, or straining during bowel movements can put pressure on this area. If there’s too much pressure, part of your stomach can get pushed into the opening. That’s called a hiatal hernia. Chest pain is a symptom, and so is stomach or esophagus pain, bloating, belching, and a sour taste in back of your throat. Most hernias don’t need treatment, but some people eventually need surgery.

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gallstones illustration
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Gallstones

These are hardened bits of digestive fluid in your gallbladder. They can be as small as a grain of sand or as big as a golf ball. If one blocks the way between your gallbladder and bile ducts (which carry waste from your body), you can get a sudden pain in your stomach that you also feel in your chest, back, or right shoulder. This is most likely to happen at night after a heavy meal.

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man eating pizza slice
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Heartburn

If acids from your stomach go up into your esophagus, you can feel pain not only in your chest, but in your jaw and throat as well. Alcohol, smoking, aspirin and other noninflammatory drugs, and citrus fruit can all be triggers. So can eating too close to bedtime. Call your doctor if you burp and don’t feel better, or you have other symptoms like nausea or sweating. 

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woman working out with dumbbells
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Muscle Pain

Being more active or exercising harder than normal can strain the muscles in your chest wall. You may notice that your pain is worse when you’re sitting or standing a certain way. Taking a deep breath or pressing on the sore area might hurt. Scale back your workout and don’t lift heavy things until the pain gets better. A heating pad or ice pack on the area can help.

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syphilis bacteria illustration
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Syphilis

This rather rare sexually transmitted disease  (STD) can cause problems with your lungs. Symptoms include a skin rash, fatigue, headache, and muscle pain. In some people, it also causes extra fliud to build up around your lungs. This can cause sharp chest pain and a cough with mucus. Antibiotics will help clear it up.

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man using asthma inahler close up
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Asthma

Chest tightness is a symptom of this, along with coughing, wheezing, and struggling to catch your breath. It can be triggered by many different things, from dust and pet hair to certain things in food or physical activity. Medication can help keep your airways open and help when symptoms flare up.

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pinched nerve illustration
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Pinched Nerve

If you’ve pinched a nerve in your neck or collarbone, you may feel pain in your chest or back. Too much pressure on a nerve can keep it from working the way it should. You could have a tingling “pins and needles” feeling, and your skin could become very tender. This usually can be treated with over-the-counter pain relief and steroid shots. If that doesn’t help, surgery may be needed to ease the pressure.

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pulmonary embolism illustration
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Pulmonary Embolism

This is when a blood clot forms somewhere in your body, then works its way into your lungs. It keeps your lungs from getting enough blood. Your chest may hurt when you breathe deeply, cough, eat, or bend over. You may notice that the pain gets worse when you’re active and doesn’t get better when you stop. If this happens, get medical help right away. Medicine can keep the clot from getting bigger and prevent more from forming.

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spleen in female body
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Blocked Spleen

This organ lives behind your left ribcage and helps protect your body from infection. It’s rare, but blood flow to your spleen can get blocked because of a blood clot, infection, or disease. If that happens, the tissue there can start to die. This is called a splenic infarction. Some people have no symptoms, but others have chest pain, often on their left side. It can get better with medication but can become serious if it’s not treated.

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woman holding sore shoulder outside
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Angina

If your body doesn’t send enough blood to your heart, you’ll feel a squeezing pressure in your chest. That’s called angina. Some people also feel pain in their shoulders, arms, neck, jaw, and back. It can be triggered by stress, heavy meals, or exercise. Or it could be a sign of another heart problem. You’re more likely to have it if your cholesterol or blood pressure is high, you have diabetes, or you don’t exercise or eat healthy food.

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mature woman coughing
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Pleurisy

If taking a deep breath, coughing, or sneezing brings on chest pain, the lining of your lungs may be inflamed. Called pleurisy, this can be caused by a virus, bacterial infection, or certain drugs you take. Lots of fluids and over-the-counter ibuprofen, like Advil or Motrin, can help. But if you also have a fever or your pain lasts more than a few days, check in with your doctor.

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costochondritis illustration
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Costochondritis

This is when the tissue in your rib cage gets inflamed because of arthritis, an injury, or infection. You may feel a sharp, aching pain or pressure in your sides. It could get worse after you work out or move your torso a lot.  There’s no cure, and it can last up to a year. Over-the-counter acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen can help. A warm compress or heating pad at the site of the pain will give relief, too.

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businessman clutching chest
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Heart Attack

Chest pain is the most common heart attack symptom. If you feel crushing pressure that lasts more than a few minutes, nausea, severe shortness of breath, or a  squeezing pain in your chest or left upper arm, call 911. Women who are having a heart attack may have more subtle symptoms. Along with chest pain, you may feel tired, have back or jaw pain, or feel dizzy.  These are all signs that you need an ambulance right away.

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Sources | Medically Reviewed on 12/01/2016 Reviewed by James Beckerman, MD, FACC on December 01, 2016

IMAGES PROVIDED BY:

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SOURCES:

American Heart Association: “Heartburn or Heart Attack?” “Angina (Chest Pain).”

Mayo Clinic: “Chest Pain,” “Gallstones,” “Pleurisy,” “Panic Attacks and Panic Disorder,” “Angina,” “Pulmonary Embolism,” “Pinched Nerve,” “Costochronditis.”

National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases: “Gallstones.”

FamilyDoctor.org: “Chest Pain, Acute.”

Anxiety and Depression Association of America: “Am I Having a Panic Attack or Heart Attack?”

Proulx, A. and Zyrd, T. “American Family Physician.” Sept. 15, 2009.

CDC: “Shingles (Herpes Zoster),” “Syphilis -- CDC Fact Sheet.”

Elzouki, A., Al-Kawaaz, M., et al., “Case Reports in Infectious Diseases,”  Volume 2012.

UpToDate: “Chest Pain (Beyond the Basics).”

NHS Choices: “Chest Pain.”

About Kids Health: “Chest Pain,” Spleen and Lymphatic System.”

MedScape: “Splenic Infarct.”

Koyuncu, M.,  Kostekci, S., et al. “Eurasian Journal of Emergency Medicine,” 4/21/15.

Weill Cornell Brain and Spine Center: “Radiculopathy.”

Washington University in St. Louis: “Thoracic Outlet Syndrome.”

Yazici, P., Kaya, C., et al. “International Journal of Surgery Case Reports,” Vol. 10, 2015.

David, G.,  Perpoint, T., et al. “Clinical Infectious Diseases,”  2006, 42 (3).

Cleveland Clinic: “Hiatal Hernia.”

National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute: “What are the Signs and Symptoms of Asthma?” “How Is Asthma Treated and Controlled?”

Reviewed by James Beckerman, MD, FACC on December 01, 2016

This tool does not provide medical advice. See additional information.

THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment and should not be relied on to make decisions about your health. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the WebMD Site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.