Pain in left side of chest, often rings a warning bell in an individual who complains of it. However, chest pain need not be always associated with heart attack, as there are several reasons for it.
Chest pain is a common problem faced by majority of the working population these days. However, when chest pain is felt specially on the left side, panic strikes as the immediate tendency is to associate this pain with heart attack. However, it’s important to understand that besides heart attack, there are several other factors resulting in left side chest pain.
Just as chest pain can originate from the heart, it can also stem from different components of the chest, like the muscles or bones. Muscular causes will result in localized chest pain, which aggravates with activity or touch. However, since the most important symptom of heart attack is pain on the left side of chest, it should never be ignored.
Pain in left side of chest often spearheads panic and commotion in people’s minds. Why wouldn’t people be worried, after all pain on the left side of chest is an indicator of heart attack, or some cardiac problem.
➤ Shortness of breath.
➤ Nausea or vomiting.
➤ Pain that spreads from chest to back.
➤ Dizziness or irregular heartbeat.
A heart attack, also called myocardial infarction (MI), occurs when the coronary arteries of the heart get blocked. The heart works 24 hours a day, pumping and beating non-stop. However, it’s muscles require constant flow of oxygen-rich blood from the coronary arteries. Plaque buildup in the coronary arteries is what leads to heart attacks. When the plaque lining the arteries ruptures, it results in the formation of a blood clot or thrombus, which blocks the artery completely. Blood supply to the heart muscles ceases.
The muscle of the heart which depends on that artery, for the supply of blood, begins to collapse in the absence of oxygen-rich blood. If the time period for which the artery remains blocked exceeds 15 minutes, the tissues in that area start dying. The nature of the pain is similar to that experienced in ischemia, in fact, heart attack is the ultimate outcome of prolonged ischemia. The pain does not remain confined to the chest region, but moves towards the left shoulder and the neck, as well.
Cardiac ischemia is the condition characterized by decreased blood flow to the heart. Lack of adequate oxygen-rich blood over a period of time, can cause damage to the heart muscles. This then affects the heart’s ability to pump blood to the rest of the body, and reduces its efficiency. Chest pain (angina pectoris) is mostly felt in the left side of the chest. Cardiac ischemia can lead to heart attack, irregular heart rhythm and even heart failure.
If the chest pain in the left side, is not caused by the heart, then it needs to be caused by something else situated in the chest cavity.
The gas that is generated in stomach and intestine, moves upward and presses against the wall of the chest. This leads to difficulty in breathing and tightening of chest wall, which eventually results in pain in the chest. If the symptoms of heart attack such as palpitations, rapid heart rate, sweating, pale skin, etc. are not experienced along with the chest pain, it is often an indication that the person is suffering from acidity, gas or heartburn.
Stress is one factor that severely impedes myocardial function. People who have to endure stress all the time, often complain of chest pain on the left side. However, stress in itself does not give way to heart attack, nonetheless, it may cause other health disorders which eventually lead to cardiac dysfunction. Obesity and diabetes, which are byproducts of unhealthy and sedentary lifestyle, may also contribute to chest pain. Smoking and drinking may also impair cardiac function to a great extent.
Between the ribs in the chest cavity, exist intercostal nerves, which when injured or damaged due to trauma or infection, spearhead pain in the chest. Sufferers describe the pain as sharp, shooting and stabbing pain in the chest, which worsens as one coughs, sneezes or laughs. On touching the region between two ribs, one may experience pain and tenderness. The pain may also radiate from the chest all the way to the shoulder and even the back, in severe cases. Abdominal pain is also experienced. Intercostal neuralgia is extremely difficult to diagnose, and often goes undetected by X-rays. In most cases, when an organic reason for chest pain cannot be found, intercostal neuralgia is suspected.
Dull pain in the left side of the chest can be caused by a pulled pectoral muscle. Pectoral muscles are situated on both left and right sides of the chest. These muscles can get strained by strenuous exercises, especially seen in athletes and those involved in contact sports. A pulled or torn pectoral muscle in the left side of the chest, will give rise to sharp pain in the left side of the chest. The pain may also radiate to the left shoulder and armpit, which aggravates even more during activity. By touching the pectoral muscle, one can know for sure if it has been bruised. Pain on touching the area will confirm it.
The upper ribs are connected to the sternum, via a cartilage, and this junction or joint is called costosternal joint. When this joint gets inflamed, the condition is called costochondritis. Commonly observed in teenagers, and young adults, this condition results in localized, sharp and stabbing chest pain, which can be caused by some trauma to the chest, or some viral infection. Pain and tenderness is experienced on the left side of the chest, which worsen after activity. Costochondritis is chest wall pain, and is not something to be worried about, and can be treated with physiotherapy and anti-inflammatory drugs.
Treatment primarily depends upon the underlying cause. Your doctor would first like to diagnose your condition by assessing your symptoms. Once, the underlying cause is ascertained, appropriate treatment can be initiated. In case you experience some severe symptoms of angina or heart attack such as tightened chest, pain that gyrates to shoulder blades and jaws, dizziness, nausea, blurry vision etc., you should immediately alert emergency medical services. In some cases, procedures such as angioplasty may be required, if the pain is due to arterial blockages. For non-cardiac causes, the medical practitioner may prescribe some pain relieving or anti-inflammatory drugs.
To avoid the incidences of chest pain, one should get a routine examination of cardiac function done. More so, if you have a family history of heart attacks, diabetes etc., or you lead an unhealthy lifestyle, or are above 40 years of age. Left side chest pain, often generates ripples of panic in the individual and his family. However, you should remember that it is not always an indication of a heart attack. Nonetheless, it should never be ignored, particularly if you fall in the risk group for heart attack.