Chest pain: why is it and when is it an emergency? (2023)

Chest pain can be a confusing symptom and should not be ignored. It could mean something as simple asacid reflux, or it could indicate a major and dangerous problem, such as heart disease. For this reason, chest pain and tightness in the chest should be taken seriously.

Chest pain, also known asangina pectoris, can manifest as a variety of symptoms, including chest pressure or tightness. Many people describe chest tightness as a tight feeling that causes significant enough discomfort to be noticeable.

If you experience chest pain, pressure, or tightness, see your doctor immediately. They can diagnose your chest pain and make sure you get the right treatment.

This article will explore left chest pain and help you understand its various causes. This will help you determine if chest tightness and pressure are a significant problem and what to do about it.

Chest pain: why is it and when is it an emergency? (1)

Left Side Chest Pain Symptoms

Chest pain symptoms arise in many ways. Symptoms may include:

  • Sharp or stabbing pain on the left side of the chest
  • Sensations of oppression in the chest
  • Left arm and shoulder grab
  • Burning in the chest or shoulder
  • Jaw pain on the left side
  • A feeling of fullness in the chest.

These symptoms can appear gradually or suddenly and can occur after activity or during rest. The pain may be accompanied by other symptoms such as shortness of breath, sweating, or nausea.

When it's an emergency

If you have tightness or pressure in your chest, you may notforeverbe a sign of a heart attack or other critical problem. However, it could be something serious that requires prompt medical attention.

Signs in your body that accompany chest pressure or left chest pain that could indicate an emergency include:

  • confusion or disorientation
  • excessive sweating
  • seas or nausea
  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest pain with jaw or upper back pain
  • Changes inblood pressureor heart rate

If you experience any of these symptoms, you should see your doctor immediately or visit the nearest emergency room. Time is of the essence. Chest pain can be a sign of heart disease and you should seek medical attention to avoid major problems.

When is chest pain a serious emergency?


There are several possiblecauses of chest painand pressure. Some of these could be orthopedic problems (involving the musculoskeletal system) and others could be related to your digestive system. Tightness and pain in the chest can be a sign that something is wrong with the heart or lungs. For this reason, all chest pains should be taken seriously and never ignored.


Your heart is surrounded by a thin, sac-like structure called the pericardium.pericarditisit is a swelling or inflammation of this structure. Chest pain is a symptom of pericarditis. The pain is usually worse when lying down or coughing and improves when sitting or leaning forward.

Other symptoms that accompany chest pain or tightness may include:

  • Fever
  • Tos
  • swelling in the legs
  • heart palpitations
  • Shortness of breath
  • Swelling of your abdomen

Pericarditis is a medical emergency. If you suspect it, you should see your doctor immediately.

Panic attack

Sometimes anxiety or stress can cause aPanic attackand can cause tightness and pressure in the chest. This may be accompanied by feelings of worry, anxiety, or sadness. You may also experience some shortness of breath, but generally you should not feel physically ill or have a fever.

acid reflux

Sometimesgastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), also known as acid reflux, can cause chest pain and tightness. These symptoms come on gradually and usually after eating a food that triggers reflux. Symptoms are not life-threatening and are usually greatly improved with over-the-counter or prescription reflux medications.

Heart attack

ANDheart attack or myocardial infarction, is a serious problem that requires prompt medical attention to treat. This occurs when blood flow to the heart is interrupted. Your heart tissue will have a hard time working properly, and you may feel a tight feeling in your chest, left shoulder, jaw, or left arm.

Symptoms of a heart attack are usually, but not always, accompanied by shortness of breath, nausea, or sweating. If there is any evidence that you may be having a heart attack, you should seek immediate medical attention. The cause of your heart attack can be determined and appropriate treatment can be started to help save your heart muscle and potentially your life.

Could you be having a heart attack? How to say, what to do

Radiculopatía cervical

Believe it or not, some pain in your chest and left arm may be coming from your neck in the form of aradiculopatía cervical. Chest pain can be caused by a pinched nerve from a bulging disc or from arthritis in the neck.

Cervical radiculopathy usually causes pain that changes with your position. As you move your neck or change your position, the pain may decrease or intensify. The pain may also decrease withanti-inflammatory medication.


Because chest pain and pressure can be caused by a number of different problems, diagnosing it can be challenging. When you report chest pain to your doctor, you will have a clinical exam so your doctor can determine the best way to diagnose the condition.

Common diagnostic tests for chest pain or tightness may include:

  • Clinical examination
  • Electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG)
  • chest x-ray
  • bloody work
  • Computed Tomography (CT)
  • Gastroscopy to examine the digestive system

If the results of these tests indicate that a heart problem is causing your chest pain, other tests may be done to determine the severity of your problem. A stress test may be done to challenge heart tissue and assess heart function, or acardiac catheterizationIt can be done to visually examine the vessels of the heart.

If a heart problem is ruled out as the cause of your chest pain, then other tests, including cervical magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or nerve conduction tests, may be done to rule out other diagnoses. Standard practice is to err on the side of caution, ruling out serious causes and then performing other tests to determine less serious causes.


The treatment you receive for chest pain depends on the results of your diagnostic tests, such as:

  • If the pressure in the chest is caused by a heart problem: Medicines may be used to help decrease your episodes of chest discomfort and to make sure your heart is working properly. If your heart problems do not improve with medication, surgery may be recommended.valve replacement,stent placement, obypass graftIt can be done to make sure your heart has adequate blood supply to continue to work properly.
  • It is caused by digestive problems: If digestive problems are causing chest pain, changes to your diet may be recommended to keep stomach acid to a minimum. Medications can be used to inhibit GERD, and surgery may be required for severe cases. Surgery involves repairing a small sphincter that separates the stomach from the lower esophagus, preventing stomach acid from moving up the esophagus.
  • If the cause is cervical radiculopathy: Cervical radiculopathy can cause chest and arm pain and is usually caused by a pinched nerve. working with aphysiotherapistIt can help decrease your pain and relieve nerve pressure.epidural steroid injectionsor surgery can also be performed for severe cases that do not improve with conservative measures.
  • If the cause is a panic attack: If a panic attack caused you chest pain, working to reduce your anxiety is a good idea. A counselor, psychologist, or therapist can help with this. Sometimes medications can be used to help control episodes of anxiety.

Types of mental health therapy.


Chest pain is a symptom that should not be overlooked. It can occur due to a heart, digestive, orthopedic, or neurological problem. Diagnosis of chest pain and pressure involves various tests to rule out or rule out specific pathology, and treatment often includes lifestyle changes, medication, or surgery.

A word from Verywell

Chest pain can be a scary symptom, and ignoring it can be a terribly bad choice. If your chest pain or pressure is caused by a heart attack, it could cause death. However, most episodes of chest pain are easily controlled; the trick is to perform the correct tests for a successful diagnosis and then treat the correct pathology.

If you experience chest pain, pressure, or tightness, see your doctor immediately. They can help determine the cause of your problem and recommend the best treatment. That way, you can quickly return to your normal lifestyle with minimal or no episodes of chest pain.

The 9 Most Common Causes of Chest Wall Pain

frequent questions

  • How to know if chest pain is muscular?

    Chest muscle pain often changes when you change position. As you move your arms or shoulders, chest muscle pain may get a little worse and usually eases or stops with rest. Muscle pain in the chest is oftennoaccompanied by other symptoms such as nausea or shortness of breath.

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