The moment you feel an unusual pain or discomfort in your chest, your mind might jump to the worst: a heart attack. While heart attacks are serious and dangerous, there are several medical causes of chest pain that are—thankfully—less of an emergency than a heart attack.
First of all, “chest pain” can refer to any physical pain in any organ between your neck and your upper abdomen. It’s easy to associate chest pain with the heart, but it could also be the lungs, ribs, muscles around the ribs, esophagus, or nerves.
Symptoms of a heart attack often include a tight and crushing pain that radiates up to the jaw or down the left arm. (However, many people, especially women, have heart attacks that don’t cause chest pain. Learn more about heart attack symptoms in women here.)
If that doesn’t sound like the pain you’re having, it might be one of these other causes:
Heartburn: Stomach acid escapes from the stomach and up to the esophagus. Heartburn symptoms include a burning sensation at the center of the chest.
Shingles: This is a viral infection that can create a burning rash on one side of the body.
Pneumonia: This is an infection in the lungs that causes a pain that worsens when you cough or breathe. Find out more symptoms of pneumonia here.
Muscle injury: This pain occurs when you strain the muscles or tendons between the ribs.
Gallstones: This causes pain in your upper right abdomen, and it typically worsens after large meals.
Panic attack: These cause many visits to the emergency room each year since so many people mistake them for a heart attack. Look for other symptoms of a panic attack, such as trembling and shortness of breath.
Pleurisy: This infection is an inflammation in the lining of the lungs. It causes a stabbing pain when breathing or coughing. Pleurisy isn’t as common as it used to be, nor is it as dangerous as it used to be (it took the lives of many, including Francis Scott Key), but it still happens.
Pericarditis: This refers to inflammation in the sac around the heart. This might come about after an infection, a heart attack, or a surgery on the heart, to name a few.
The above conditions might not usually be life-threatening, but the following two causes of chest pain can be severe medical emergencies:
Pulmonary embolism: This is a blood clot in the lungs that causes a sharp pain that worsens with breathing. It requires immediate treatment, as it can be life-threatening.
Collapsed lung: Medically known as pneumothorax, this is when air escapes from the lungs (for example, due to a bullet hole or rib fracture) and creates pressure in the chest cavity. The lungs are not able to take in air properly, making this an urgent medical emergency.
Even if the chest pain is not an emergency situation, you should still see a doctor. Many of the conditions are treatable, and could worsen into a more serious situation if not taken care of. See your doctor immediately, if the chest pain:
Causes trouble swallowing
Or lasts longer than three to five days.
Wanna prevent a heart attack? Here are 7 heart-healthy lifestyle tweaks to start today.