While it can be a frightening experience, everyone should be aware of the common causes of chest pain. The causes of chest pain range from life threatening to relatively annoying problems that should all be addressed by a physician.  Experiencing excruciating chest pain requires immediate attention as does chest pain accompanied by pain traveling down the left arm or radiating up under the chin.  In all cases where it is difficult to breath, where one feels as if he or she may lose consciousness, or where things appear to be fair from normal going to an emergency department of a hospital should be seriously considered.  Most causes of chest pain require one to consult a physician in order to find relief and heal. While a general practitioner should be able to help in many cases, consulting a specialist in an area such as cardiology, pulmonology, or even gastro-intestinal medicine may be necessary in order to appropriately diagnosed


Asthma is a very common pulmonary condition that involves inflammation of the airways.  Asthmatics cough, wheeze and have shortness of breath during an attack.  They suffer from tightness of the airways and inflammation and often have bronchial spasm associated with their attacks.  Chest pain is common with a severe attack.  Furthermore, the coughing is often so deep and prolonged that an asthmatic is prone to muscle aches in the chest area that can be quite severe.  Most asthmatics recognize the symptoms of their disease after a few attacks, those with more serious asthma generally are able to gauge when a doctor or emergency service needs to be contacted.


When the heart muscle does not get enough blood and oxygen there can be significant pain in the chest.  This pain is referred to as angina.  There are two types of angina.  The first, or stable angina, tends to occur predictably with exertion or exercise.  The second is more unpredictable and occurs at unexpected times; this type is called unstable angina and is far more dangerous and can lead to other problems..  The pain from an angina attack can be debilitating. Angina must be monitored by a physician who specializes in cardiology. There are medications that can help with the pain and that can help to keep attacks at bay.


A painful burning sensation located just below, and sometimes a bit behind, the sternum is often heartburn.  This gastric issue is quite uncomfortable and has even been mistaken for a heart attack; it is called heartburn for a reason! The condition is caused by acid reflux.  Acid from the stomach backs up into the esophagus where it causes a painful, burning sensation.  People with chronic heartburn can suffer excruciating pain and are at risk for developing more serious diseases such as esophageal cancer; therefore, it is incredibly important to seek medical attention and to use antacid or other medications to cut down on the risks associated with this condition.  Other digestive system issues can also cause chest pain.

Pneumonia and Other Infections

Respiratory infections can cause a myriad of problems, many of which will have chest pain as a symptom.  Pneumonia can be a bacterial, viral, or fungal infection.  Because the lung is infected, deep chest pain often accompanies the chills, fever, cough and sputum production associated with this infection.  The cough is often so harsh that muscle pain in the chest is common.  Pleuritic pain or pain associated with irritation of the lining of the lungs and chest cavity is often caused by the cough and other symptoms of pneumonia.  Also, the pleura can themselves become infected and be quite painful.  Any infection that causes one to have a deep or serious or long-lasting cough can cause chest pain.  Patients have even presented with a fractured rib from a serious coughing spell.  These infections would include sinusitis, the common cold and bronchitis.

Heart Attack

A heart attack or a myocardial infarction is caused by reduced or no blood flow to the heart muscle.  This results in the death of heart muscle cells.  The pain of a heart attack is often described as the feeling of having an elephant sit on one’s chest.   It feels as though the chest is being crushed or compressed and no amount of rest or change of position will relieve this pain.  Accompanying this pain is often sweating, nausea, vomiting, and shortness of breath.  Patients report feeling increasingly weak as the heart attack progresses.  Generally one or more arteries that supply the heart muscles are blocked due to excessive plaque buildup or a stuck blood clot.  Cutting off the blood, and therefore the oxygen, that the heart muscle needs to work properly causes this pain to be quite severe.  The heart is always at work and needs to have adequate blood flow in order to function.

Addressing Chest Pain

Patients with any type of chest pain, especially pain that does not stop when at rest or that gets worse and worse rather quickly need to seek medical attention.  No matter if the pain is a full blown heart attack or soreness from a severe cough, a physician should be consulted so that pain relief can be achieved.  In the case of a heart attack, delaying care can lead to serious heart muscle damage or death. With nearly all of the causes of chest pain medical intervention, if sought out early on, can make a big difference in not just pain relief but in stopping or repairing the underlying cause of the pain.  It is essential with many of these conditions that this underlying cause be addressed in order to be sure that the body will not be permanently damaged.  Damage to the esophagus due to acid reflux can be permanent and can lead to serious consequences.  Damage to the lungs, pleura or bronchial tubes can be devastating.  Heart damage is a frightening prospect for most patients.  The fact that anyone experiencing symptoms of any of these causes of chest pain should seek out medical help cannot be stressed enough.