Chest pain

Last updated:

Reviewed by:

Dr Bryony Henderson

, Lead GP at Livi

Medically reviewed

Most chest pain isn’t serious but it’s best to get checked out. Read on to find out about possible causes and treatments. Find out about causes and symptoms. If you think you’re having a heart attack, dial 999.

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 cough

  • 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.

  • Heart attacks and angina have similar symptoms but angina happens when you are exercising and will resolve when you rest.

  • 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.

  • Chest injuries

  • Lung cancer

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

  • Anxiety and panic disorders – caused by feeling worried and breathing quickly. Panic attacks can cause physical symptoms that can mimic heart attacks.

  • 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:

  • Smoke

  • Are overweight

  • 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.

Last updated:
Reviewed by:
Dr Bryony Henderson, Lead GP at Livi