Chest pain is one of the most common reasons people call for emergency medical help. Fortunately, chest pain doesn’t always signal a heart attack. Often chest pain is unrelated to any heart problem. Even so it is important not to ignore it, and to see a medical evaluation as quickly as possible.
There are many possible causes of chest pain. Some causes are mildly inconvenient, while other causes are serious, even life-threatening. Any organ or tissue in your chest can be the source of pain, including your heart, lungs, esophagus, muscles, ribs, tendons, or nerves.
Angina is one type of heart-related chest pain. This pain occurs because your heart is not getting enough blood and oxygen. Angina pain can be similar to the pain of a heart attack.
Other causes of chest pain include:
- Asthma, which is generally accompanied by shortness of breath, wheezing, or cough.
- Pneumonia, a blood clot to the lung (pulmonary embolism), the collapse of a small area of a lung (pneumothorax), or inflammation of the lining around the lung (pleurisy). In these cases, the chest pain often worsens when you take a deep breath or cough and usually feels sharp.
- Strain or inflammation of the muscles and tendons between the ribs.
- Anxiety and rapid breathing.
Chest pain can also be related to problems with your digestive system. These include stomach ulcer, gallbladder disease, gallstones, indigestion, heartburn, or gastroesophageal reflux (when acid from your stomach backs up into your esophagus).
Ulcer pain burns if your stomach is empty and feels better with food. Gallbladder pain often gets worse after a meal, especially a fatty meal.
In children, most chest pain is not caused by the heart.