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Types of Chest Pain

Edited by Michelle Asselin

Chest pain can be extremely scary, especially if is the first time experiencing it. Many people associate chest pain with a problematic heart condition, but chest pain may have many different origins, some of which do not involve the heart. About 25% of people experience some form of chest pain at least once in their lifetime. Recognizing the different types of chest pain and knowing when to seek emergency medical attention may be life-saving.

Common Types of Chest Pain

Chest pain can be caused by conditions that affect the heart, abdomen, lungs, stomach, intestines, bones, or muscles.

Cardiac Chest Pain

Pain associated with the heart is usually triggered by physical exertion, exercise, emotional distress, extreme temperatures, or eating. The pain usually feels like a squeezing, pressurized and heavy sensation in the front of the chest. This pain may radiate to the jaw, arms, neck, and back. Pain is generally not worsened by applying physical pressure to the area and lasts about 2-5 minutes but can persist for up to 10 minutes. Changing positions and trying to move may worsen the pain, while resting may relieve the pain.

Cardiac chest pain can be due to many different medical conditions, such as angina, heart infections, heart inflammations, pulmonary hypertension, and pulmonary embolisms. If you are experiencing any of the above symptoms, it is essential to see your doctor as soon as possible to get a full workup done, which may include an echocardiogram, or an ultrasound of the heart.

Stomach/Esophageal-Associated Chest Pain

Pain associated with the stomach or intestines can be felt in the chest, especially if this pain is quite severe. This pain is typically due to stomach inflammation or indigestion. This pain presents as a burning sensation that starts in the stomach and may travel up to the esophagus, or the back of the throat. This pain is worsened by food but may be relieved by heartburn medications such as Tums.

Muscle and Bone-Associated Chest Pain

Pain due to a fracture or muscle trauma in the abdominal area can also be associated with chest pain. This pain usually presents as a sore, achy, or sharp pain in the injured area. Movement usually makes this pain worse, while rest and heat may make the pain better.

Asthma, COPD, or Other Respiratory Conditions

Conditions that affect breathing can strain the lungs, and this may often be associated with chest pain. This pain usually presents as a heavy, pressurizing sensation in the chest, and is usually worsened by attempting to take a deep breath. Reliever inhalers, such as Ventolin or Symbicort, may be needed to help relieve the pain and allow for the individual to draw up a full breath.