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Chest Ache

Chest Ache

Chest ache is a common health problem that should not be taken lightly. Most people believe that the only cause of chest pain is a heart attack, but there can be lots of other causes.
Kritika Parwani
Last Updated: Jan 21, 2018
Many people with chest pain fear that they are having a heart attack. However, there are many other possible causes of chest ache. Some causes can be mildly inconvenient, while others can be life-threatening. Any organ or tissue in your chest can be the source of chest pain, including your heart, lungs, esophagus, muscles, ribs, tendons or even nerves. Let us find out more information on chest ache and its causes.
Chest Pain Causes
Chest pain is caused either due to cardiac or non-cardiac reasons. Even a prolonged cough causes chest pain due to muscle strain, whereby the chest wall also becomes tender. Following are some of the possible causes of chest pain.
Angina: A type of chest discomfort, angina is caused by poor blood flow through the vessels of the heart muscle. A common symptom is pain that occurs behind the breast bone or slightly to the left of it. You may feel tightness, heavy pressure, squeezing or crushing pain. The pain may spread to the arm, shoulder, jaw or back.
Pneumonia: Another cause of chest pain is pneumonia, which is a respiratory condition in which there is inflammation of the lungs. If the aching chest is caused by pneumonia then you usually have difficulty in breathing and this gets worse when you have cough.
Shingles: A painful blistering skin rash, shingles is caused due to the same virus that causes chickenpox. In case, the chest ache is due to shingles there will be a sharp tingling pain on one side that will stretch from the chest to the back.
Pericarditis: Inflammation of the membranes around the heart or pericarditis, can cause chest pain that gets worse with a deep breath. Pain may be relieved when a person sits in such a position that he/she is leaning forward. The person may have abnormal heart sounds and characteristic changes in an electrocardiogram (ECG).
Aortic Dissection: An uncommon but serious cause of aching chest is aortic dissection. The aorta is the main artery in the body. It is composed of layers of muscle cells, much like the layers of an onion. Sometimes, the layers can separate and rupture, causing the blood to flow into areas of the body outside the circulatory system. This is a very serious condition that can be corrected by vascular surgery. The pain of aortic dissection is usually severe, comes on very suddenly, is felt in the back or between the shoulder blades, and is described as a ripping or tearing sensation.
Heart Attack: An ache in the left side of the chest could indicate the onset of a heart attack. When a person gets a heart attack, the blood flow is blocked due to blood clots in the artery that supplies blood to heart. In such a condition, the heart muscle does not receive blood and oxygen, causing chest pain.
Digestive System: Problems in the digestive system such as indigestion, gallbladder disease, gallstone and stomach ulcer can also cause a dull chest ache. The severity of pain may vary depending upon the condition of the patient.
Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD): Acid reflux may cause the stomach content to move back to the throat which may cause burning sensation and inflammation in the chest resulting in chest pain.
Lung Cancer: Another possible cause of dull chest pain is lung cancer. Lung cancer is different from other types of cancer and hence, more menacing in the sense that it often goes unnoticed since even when tumors are present, the symptoms do not show up. People with lung cancer are often diagnosed accidentally, for example, through a chest x-ray which may be taken to diagnose another ailment. Along with a dull chest pain, patients with lung cancer will have symptoms, like cough with sputum and blood, or blood in itself, shortness of breath, etc,.
Bone, Muscle and Nerve Problems
If someone already has a rib fracture, it may get worse while coughing, which may result in inflammation and pain. Hard coughing may also cause harm to the adjoining muscles and nerves which may further lead to chest pain.
When to Rush for Medical Assistance
It is imperative to call for medical help if:
  • You experience sudden crushing, squeezing, tightening or pressure in your chest.
  • Pain radiates to your jaw, left arm, or between your shoulder blades.
  • You experience nausea, dizziness, confusion, sweating, a racing heart, or shortness of breath.
  • You know you have angina and your chest discomfort is suddenly more intense, brought on by lighter activity, or lasts longer than usual.
  • Very low blood pressure or heart rate.
  • You have a sudden sharp chest pain with shortness of breath, especially after a long trip, or at the time of bed rest (for example, following a surgery), or other lack of movement that can lead to a blood clot in your leg.
  • Coughing up yellow green mucus.
Always remember that it is not advisable to ignore chest pain especially if it keeps recurring. If you feel any pain in the thoracic region, it is imperative to call for medical help. The treatment of chest pain will depend on the underlying cause, which can only be decided by the doctor after examination.
Disclaimer: This HealthHearty article is for informative purposes only, and should not be used as a replacement for expert medical advice.