What is chest pain?
Chest pain is any pain in your chest or on the back of your chest. It may worsen when you move, breathe, or position yourself in a certain way.
What are the symptoms of chest pain?
Chest pain symptoms depend on the cause. They may include:
Pain anywhere on the chest that feels like it’s coming from inside your chest or on top of the skin
Pain when breathing deeply, coughing, sneezing, burping, or swallowing
Pain that gets worse when lying down
Pain that spreads to the neck, jaw, arms, or shoulders
A high temperature
Heart palpitations – when you notice your heart beating
What causes chest pain?
Chest pain can have many different causes. It can be caused by the organs in the chest, bones of the ribcage, chest muscles, or the skin. The symptoms you have may be linked to the cause of your chest pain. But if you’re worried about your symptoms, don’t self-diagnose, see a doctor instead.
Heart-related chest pain
Heart problems and chest pain are normally in the centre of the chest or to the left but can rarely cause right sided chest pain.
Pericarditis usually causes a sharp, stabbing pain in the centre of your chest that gets worse when you take a deep breath
Lung-related chest pain
You may have a sharp pain that is worse when you are breathing, coughing, moving, or laughing. Causes of lung-related chest pain are:
Chest infections and pneumonias – you may also have a cough that produces mucky sputum, and high temperatures. Covid-19 can also cause chest pain.
A blood clot in the lungs is called a pulmonary embolism. This pain will start suddenly, you may also be short of breath.
Other causes of chest pain
Other causes of chest pain symptoms include:
Heartburn and indigestion can cause pain on swallowing, pain that is worse after eating, a bitter taste in your mouth, or a burning in your chest
Shingles – starts with a tingling on the skin, then turns into a painful rash that blisters
Muscular chest pain is more likely to be worse on movements, have started after an injury, and can be painful to touch the affected area.
How is chest pain investigated?
If you have chest pain a doctor may do some tests to find the cause of your symptoms, including:
ECGs – these measure the electrical activity in the heart and can be helpful in looking for heart problems
Blood tests – to look for signs of infection, and how well your organs are working
Chest X-rays – to look for problems with the lungs, and bones of the chest
How is chest pain treated?
The treatment for chest pain is to treat any underlying cause and reduce the pain.
Painkillers, such as paracetamol, and anti-inflammatory drugs, like ibuprofen, can be given to ease the pain.
Chest pain in children
Chest pain in an otherwise well child is most likely to be caused by muscular problems. If your child is working harder to breath, or unwell then you should seek medical advice.
How can I prevent chest pain?
Heart attacks are more likely if you:
Have diabetes, high cholesterol, or high blood pressure
Have other family members who had heart attacks before the age of 60
If you can reduce these risks, your chance of having a heart attack will decrease. If you are unsure how to reduce these risks, then see a doctor.
When should I seek medical help for chest pain?
If you think you may be having a heart attack call 999. You need emergency treatment in a hospital.
Signs you may be having a heart attack are:
Central chest pain that feels like someone is sitting on your chest
Pain that spreads to your arms, jaw, neck, or back
Feeling sweaty or sick
Other symptoms that you should go to A&E to get checked are:
Pain that is severe and starts suddenly
You are also short of breath
You can feel your heart racing
If you have chest pain and you are worried about it then it’s best to book an appointment with a doctor.
How can Livi help?
A Livi doctor will ask you questions about your symptoms. They’ll make an individual assessment, recommend a treatment or refer you to a specialist if needed.
- Reviewed by:
- Dr Bryony Henderson, Lead GP at Livi