Chest pain

Chest pain: A heart attack or something else? | 3 min read

When you have chest pain, your first thought may be that you’re having a heart attack. Chest pain in any area of the chest may spread to the arms, into the neck, or jaw. While chest pain is a well-established sign of a heart attack, it can also be caused by many other less severe conditions, such as lung problems, oesophagus, muscles, ribs, or nerve issues.

What causes chest pains?

  • Heart attack. A heart attack results from blocked blood flow to the heart muscle, often from a blood clot. Angina can be the main symptom felt during a heart attack.
  • Angina. This is chest pain caused by poor blood flow to the heart. 
  • Aortic dissection. This life-threatening condition involves the main artery leading from the heart, the aorta. If the inner layers of this blood vessel separate, blood is forced between the layers and can cause the aorta to rupture.
  • Pericarditis. This condition usually causes sharp pain that gets worse when breathing in or lying down.
  • Heartburn. It is a painful, burning feeling behind the breastbone. It occurs when stomach acid washes up from the stomach into the oesophagus (the tube that connects the throat to the stomach). 
  • Swallowing disorders. Problems with the oesophagus can make swallowing difficult and even painful.
  • Gallbladder or pancreas problems. Gallstones or inflammation of the gallbladder or pancreas can cause stomach pain that spreads to the chest.
  • Costochondritis. The rib cage, mainly the cartilage that joins the ribs to the breastbone, becomes inflamed and painful.
  • Sore muscles. Chronic pain syndromes, such as fibromyalgia, may cause long-term pain that affects the chest muscles.
  • Injured ribs. A bruised or broken rib can cause chest pain.
  • Pulmonary embolism. A blood clot stuck in a lung artery can block blood flow to lung tissue, causing pain.
  • Pleurisy. This condition causes chest pain that gets worse when you breathe in or cough.
  • Collapsed lung. A collapsed lung occurs when air leaks into the space between the lung and the ribs.
  • Pulmonary hypertension. This condition affects the arteries carrying blood to the lungs, causing chest pain.

What are the symptoms of chest pains?

  • Pressure, fullness, burning, or tightness in the chest.
  • Crushing or searing pain that spreads to the back, neck, jaw, shoulders, and one or both arms.
  • Pain that lasts more than a few minutes and worsens with activity.
  • Shortness of breath.
  • Cold sweats.
  • Dizziness, light-headedness, or weakness.
  • Racing heartbeats.
  • Nausea or vomiting.

However, it can be difficult to tell if chest pain is related to the heart or caused by something else. Usually, chest pain is less likely due to a heart problem if it happens with the following:

  • A sour taste or a sensation of food re-entering the mouth.
  • Trouble swallowing.
  • Pain that gets better or worse when you change body position.
  • Pain that gets worse when you breathe deeply or cough.
  • Tenderness when you push on your chest.
  • Pain that continues for many hours.
  • Pain accompanied by a rash.
  • Back pain radiating to the front of your chest.

A healthy lifestyle can reduce the risk of chest pains. 

How to prevent chest pains?

  • Follow a healthy diet.
  • Manage current health conditions like high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes.
  • Exercise regularly.
  • Maintain a healthy weight.
  • Limit alcohol intake.
  • Avoid tobacco products.

When to consult a doctor for chest pain?

Chest pain is not something to ignore. If you have new or unexplained chest pain or think you’re having a heart attack, consult an Intercare doctor immediately. 


Subscribe to our newsletter

Join our mailing list to receive the latest news and articles, competition announcements, and webinar dates.

Subscription successful.

Share this article
Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on reddit
Share on linkedin

Schedule an Appointment

Intercare medical centres focus on routine, chronic and walk-in care as well as on patient wellness.

More on Medical

Yellow Fever Symptoms

Yellow fever

Yellow fever is a viral illness caused by the bite...