What is chest problems?

Chest Problems
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Chest problems: Overview

Chest pain and heart attack

Chest discomfort or pain may be a key warning symptom of a heart attack. Heart attack symptoms may include:

  • Chest pain or pressure, or a strange feeling in the chest.
  • Sweating.
  • Shortness of breath.
  • Nausea or vomiting.
  • Pain, pressure, or a strange feeling in the back, neck, jaw, or upper belly, or in one or both shoulders or arms.
  • Lightheadedness or sudden weakness.
  • A fast or irregular heartbeat.

Chest discomfort or pain that comes on or gets worse with exercise, stress, or eating a large meal and goes away with rest may also be a heart disease symptom called angina.

If you have any of these symptoms of a heart attack, call 911 or other emergency services now. After you call 911, the operator may tell you to chew 1 adult-strength or 2 to 4 low-dose aspirin. Wait for an ambulance. Do not try to drive yourself. Since most of the damage to the heart muscle during a heart attack occurs in the first 6 hours, emergency treatment may prevent damage to the heart muscle and death. For men and women, the most common symptom is chest pain or pressure. Women are somewhat more likely than men to have other symptoms like shortness of breath, tiredness, nausea, and back or jaw pain.

Other causes of chest discomfort or pain

Most people fear that chest pain always means that something is wrong with the heart. This isn't the case. Chest discomfort or pain, especially in people who are younger than age 40, can have many causes.

  • Angina (say "ANN-juh-nuh" or "ann-JY-nuh") is a type of chest pain or discomfort that happens when there isn't enough blood flow to the heart muscle. It's a symptom of coronary artery disease, also called heart disease. Angina is called stable angina when you can usually predict when your symptoms will happen. You probably know what things cause your angina. A sudden and unexpected change in your usual pattern of angina means that the blood flow has become more impaired and you could be having a heart attack. This is called unstable angina.
  • Pain in the muscles or bones of the chest often occurs when you increase your activities or add exercise to your schedule. This is sometimes called chest wall pain.
  • Costochondritis is an inflammation of the joints formed by the cartilage connecting the ribs to the breastbone (sternum). It could be caused by an injury to the chest. But often the reason for the inflammation isn't known.
  • Burning chest pain that occurs when you cough may be from an upper respiratory infection caused by a virus.
  • Burning chest or rib pain, especially just before a rash appears, may be caused by shingles.
  • An injury such as a broken rib or bruised lung can be quite painful. The pain may be worse when you cough or try to take a deep breath.
  • Swelling (inflammation) of the thin layers of tissue (pleura) covering the lungs and the chest wall may occur. This is called pleurisy.
  • Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) can cause pain just below the breastbone. Many people will say that they have "heartburn." You can usually relieve this pain by taking an antacid or eating.

Other more serious problems that can cause chest pain include:

  • An infection, such as pneumonia.
  • A collapsed lung (pneumothorax). This usually causes a sharp, stabbing chest pain and occurs with shortness of breath.
  • A blood clot in the lung (pulmonary embolism). It usually causes deep chest pain with sudden and extreme shortness of breath.
  • Lung cancer. It may cause chest pain, especially if the cancer cells spread to involve the ribs.
  • Diseases of the spine. It can cause chest pain if the nerves in the spine are "pinched."

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The content above contains general health information provided by Healthwise, Incorporated, and reviewed by its medical experts. This content should not replace the advice of your healthcare provider. Not all treatments or services described are offered as services by us. For recommended treatments, please consult your healthcare provider.