Chest Pain Causes

Chest pain strikes fear into many people’s hearts. The causes may vary, but it can be frightening to experience chest pain, especially since so many of us associate chest pain with heart attacks.

Luckily, such fears may be greatly exaggerated as Dr. Gifford-Jones reports that, in one study, only half of one hundred consecutive E.R. patients admitted for chest pain actually had coronary heart disease. The rest experienced different chest pain causes relating to ulcers, gallstones, and gas.

An Overview of Some Causes of Chest Pain


chest x rayYour chest cavity is well packed with organs, bones, and tissue. The digestive system, lungs, muscles, ribs, and heart can experience chest pain related to muscle strain, disease and emotional turmoil. Even indigestion from overeating can cause chest pain. Pressure builds up in the chest cavity resulting in pain, and indigestion can lead to inflammation of the pancreas, thus producing the pain.

Indigestion is of course also a leading cause of heartburn, that burning sensation in your chest that gets worse when you lay down. You probably associate heartburn with bowls of chili and too much coffee, but it is a symptom for many different issues including inflammation of the pancreas (GERD) and gallstones.

The Lungs

The lungs can cause chest pain as well. Ms. McIntosh notes that pleurisy, a swelling of the linings of the lungs, results in intense pain that increases when breathing in. It is often caused by an infection such as pneumonia. Dr. Gifford-Jones notes that bronchospams can cause continual aching and sharp pains in the chest region, and coughing and wheezing can create muscle strain.

Muscular Causes

You might think muscle strain is what happens to your back if you lift something heavy, or to your legs if you participate in a charity fun-run after not getting on the treadmill for two years. However, coughing fits and intense exercise can cause muscle strain within the chest, at times producing left chest pain. Ms. McIntosh notes that the soft cartilage joining the ribs to the breastbone may also be strained and cause discomfort.

The Ribs

Your ribs can cause chest pain even if the bones have not been broken. Dr. Gifford-Jones writes that Slipping Rib Syndrome is when the tenth rib’s cartilage becomes dislocated and overrides that of the ninth rib. This condition causes a sharp pain when someone is slumped in an unusual posture.

Other Causes

Did you know that herpes can cause burning in the chest region of older people? Dr. Gifford-Jones reports that the pain is usually specific to one or two ribs just before vesicular lesions appear.

Deborah McIntosh reports that chest pain may also be caused by a Hiatus hernia. If the stomach protrudes through a weak spot of muscles into the diaphragm, it causes the kind pain that can feel like a heart attack. This intense sensation of discomfort needs treatment, but rest assured, it does not point to a myocardial infarction.

Anxiety and strong emotions can affect the heart and lungs causing chest pain, difficulty breathing, and unusual oxygen levels. Stress can even cause heart palpitations. Always keep in mind, your emotional state has direct physical consequences.

Dealing with an upset in oxygen flow caused by heightened emotion is different than dealing with it when it is caused by angina. Angina is a result of coronary heart disease, and Ms. McIntosh reports that the treatment for emotion-related oxygen changes and angina-related oxygen flow problems are different. So be sure to get a proper diagnosis before treatment.


Heart disease and heart attacks are certainly possible chest pain causes, but they are far from the only ones. In fact, most chest pains are the result of other types of often minor conditions. It’s also true that, when having an actual heart attack, many people experience pain in areas other than the chest (the arms or jaw, for example) as well as shortness of breath, sweating, or nausea.

If you are experiencing chest pain or if a previously diagnosed chest pain has worsened, seek help immediately. Many chest pain causes are non-threatening, but a medical care practitioner should make the diagnosis. If your chest pain is not from a heart attack, you will have peace of mind as well as a proper diagnosis so you can properly treat the issue. Some non-heart attack chest pain causes can become life threatening when left untreated. It is best to have your chest pain causes diagnosed so you can stay healthy.


Works Cited

Gifford-Jones, W. “The Doctor Game.” The Globe and Mail. 23 Aug 1984. Nexis. 20 May 2011.

McIntosh, Deborah. “Chest Pain.” The Sun Herald. 20 May 2011, Late Edition. Nexis. 20 May 2011.