What is chest pain?
Chest pain is a pain or discomfort in any area of your chest. It may spread to other areas of your upper body, including down your arms or into your neck or jaw. Chest pains can be sharp or dull. You may feel tightness or achiness. Or you may feel like something is crushing or squeezing your chest.
Pain in your chest can last for a few minutes or hours. In some cases, it can last six months or longer. It often worsens during exertion and improves when you’re at rest. Or it may happen while you’re resting. It can feel like it’s in a specific area or a larger, more general one. You may have left-side chest pain, pain in the middle of your chest or right-side chest pain.
You should seek medical attention for chest pain in case it’s a heart attack or another life-threatening problem.
Healthcare providers see many people with chest pain. It’s a very common symptom. But it’s not always related to your heart.
What does chest pain feel like?
Chest pain symptoms related to your heart feel like:
You also may feel:
- Short of breath.
- Discomfort in your belly, shoulders, arms, jaw, neck and back.
- Sick to your stomach.
Some of these symptoms also happen with lung issues that need immediate treatment.
What is the main cause of chest pain?
Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD or chronic heartburn) is the most common cause of chest pain. Heart issue or not, you should get medical attention to get a diagnosis and the treatment you need.
What are the most common causes of chest pain?
Chest pains can come from heart, lung, digestive or other issues. They’re difficult to diagnose because they have so many causes. Healthcare providers start by looking for life-threatening causes first.
Chest pain causes include:
Care and Treatment
How is chest pain treated?
Chest pain treatment depends on the cause of the pain. If a heart attack is causing your chest pain, you’ll get emergency treatment as soon as you seek help. This can include medication and a procedure or surgery to restore blood flow to your heart.
If a noncardiac condition is causing your chest pains, your healthcare provider will talk to you about treatment options. Depending on your illness and how bad it is, they may recommend:
- Lifestyle changes.
- Surgery or a procedure.
What are the possible complications or risks of not treating chest pain?
Some causes of chest pain can be life-threatening. This includes some lung-related causes of chest pain, too. The safe bet is to see a healthcare provider who can diagnose and treat your chest pain.
Can chest pain be prevented?
Yes. You can reduce your risk of heart, vascular and other diseases by following a healthy lifestyle. This includes:
- Eating a healthy diet. Your healthcare provider or registered dietitian can help you create an eating plan that’s right for you.
- Managing health conditions you have, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes.
- Exercising most days of the week.
- Reaching and maintaining a weight that’s healthy for you.
- Limiting the amount of alcohol you drink.
- Not using tobacco products.
To prevent some other causes of chest pain, you can:
- Avoid asthma triggers.
- Treat respiratory infections right away.
- Take medicine to prevent blood clots if you’re at risk for them.
- Get a vaccination for chickenpox or shingles.
- Avoid foods that cause heartburn.
- On long road trips or flights, prevent blood clots from forming in your legs by getting up and walking around a little bit once every couple of hours.
When to Call the Doctor
How do I know if my chest pain is serious?
If you have chest pain that lasts longer than five minutes and doesn’t go away when you rest or take medication, get immediate help. Call 911, your local emergency services number or have someone take you to the closest emergency room (ER) right away.
Cardiac chest pain can be life-threatening.
Chest pain can be a sign of a heart attack. Other signs of a heart attack include:
- Nausea or vomiting.
- Shortness of breath.
- Light-headedness or fainting.
- A rapid or irregular heartbeat.
- Pain in your back, jaw, neck, upper abdomen, arm or shoulder.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is chest pain normal?
No. Chest pain isn’t normal. If you have chest pain, contact your healthcare provider or 911 right away.
What should I do if I have chest pain?
Pay attention to any type of chest pain.
If your chest pain is new, comes on suddenly, or lasts longer than five minutes after you rest or take medication, call 911, your local emergency number or have someone take you to the closest emergency room.
If your chest pain goes away or comes and goes, see your healthcare provider as soon as possible to find out what’s causing the pain, even if it’s not severe.
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Although most people think of a heart attack when they think of chest pain, there are many other conditions that cause chest pain. Know the signs of a heart attack and seek medical attention soon after you start having pain. Make a mental note of what you were doing when your chest pain happened so you can tell your healthcare provider. Being able to describe the kind of pain you’re having and where can help your provider give you a diagnosis.