Learn about why your chest hurts

Chest Pain: When Your Heart Hurts

Chest pain can be caused by many different conditions. In some cases, chest pain can be a sign of a life-threatening heart condition. In other cases, chest pain may actually stem from an issue with other organs, such as your lungs.

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Chest pain may even result from a cracked rib; however, even the most minor twinge of chest pain should always be checked to be sure it’s not the sign of a major health condition. It’s important to understand your symptoms and know when to call your doctor or when to get help right away.

How Does Chest Pain Feel?

Chest pain can feel different to everyone and might be described as sharp, dull, aching, crushing, or burning.

It can range from very mild to severe, can come and go, and can be worse during or after activity. Chest pain may also spread from your chest to your neck, jaw, arms, shoulders, or back.

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What Causes Chest Pain?

Chest pain is a common symptom of many heart problems, including:

  • Coronary artery disease, which happens when cholesterol builds up on the walls of your arteries. This can make your arteries narrow, or even block them completely, raising your risk of a heart attack or stroke.
  • Heart attack, which happens when blood flow to your heart is blocked and its cells can’t get the blood and oxygen they need to pump. Chest pain is a very common symptom; if you think you or someone else is having a heart attack, call 9-1-1 right away.
  • Heart rhythm problems, where your heart beats too fast, too slow, or in an irregular way.
  • Heart valve problems, which can happen when your valves become narrow or leak.
  • Aortic dissection, a potentially life-threatening condition that happens when the wall of your aorta tears. Sudden, sharp chest pain is a very common symptom of this condition; if you or someone else has symptoms of aortic dissection, call 9-1-1 right away.
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Talking to Your Doctor About Your Chest Pain

In some cases, chest pain is caused by an illness or injury that has nothing to do with your heart. For example, you can have chest pain if you have pneumonia, indigestion, or a broken rib.

Because chest pain is commonly linked to heart problems, it’s important to talk to your doctor about any chest pain you feel, even if it’s very mild. Your doctor can determine the best way to treat your chest pain based on your needs.

If you’ve been having recurring chest pains, visit the UPMC Heart and Vascular Institute online or call 1-855-UPMC-HVI (876-2484) to schedule an appointment with an expert. Visit a free heart screening to learn more about your heart health.

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