Your heart rate is increasing, and your breathing is deeper and more rapid. Your body is preparing for a set of events that will likely cause you physical pain. Your chest feels tight; it’s hard to breathe; and, surrounded by air that’s too rarefied (oxygen-rich), it’s burning up. The physical effects of an out-of-balance stomach are obvious. But psychological effects can be just as painful. A cracked rib can hurt like the devil for a week or two, but you get over it. A chronic tight chest with no relief from physical examination or discomfort from exertion? That’s called chest pain. And, according to the American Heart Association (AHA), about 75% of patients who have chest pain don’t have it effectively treated — which explains why it can be so challenging to diagnose and treat this common condition.
Why Does My Chest Feel Like It Needs To Crack?
The pain is most likely caused by a hernia, an abnormal enlargement of the stomach or intestines. The hernia can be small, but if it becomes large, it can cause serious problems. If you have a hernia, you should see a doctor as soon as possible. Surgery is often the only way to fix it.
What Causes Chest Pain?
The body’s natural response to stress
The human body has a self-explanation mechanism that helps it protect itself from threats to the body’s health. When you’re under stress, the body’s natural response is to increase blood flow to the muscles in order to help with the perceived stressor. As you may know, increased heart rate and breathing rates are also common symptoms of stress. When you’re not under stress, your body keeps a healthy balance by increasing and decreasing blood flow to the areas that need it. When you’re under stress, your body wants more blood flow and relaxes the muscles it needs to work. This leads to: – Fatigue – Confusion – Increased heart rate – Confusion and thoughts of self-harm – Increased blood pressure – Tachycardia, which is an abnormal quick heartbeat – increased gasping for breath
Lack of blood flow
Obstructions to blood flow can cause chest pain. For example, a narrowed or blocked artery can cause chest pain. However, some conditions cause a decrease in blood flow, such as: – Artery disease – When the blood flow to the area around the heart is reduced, you get chest pain – Heart disease – When the blood flow to specific parts of the body is reduced, you get chest pain – Lung disease – When the blood flow to the lungs is reduced, you get chest pain – Kidney disease – When the blood flow to the kidneys is reduced, you get chest pain – Muscular disease – When the muscle movement is restricted, you get chest pain
Heart disease is another common cause of chest pain. This can be triggered by: – An unhealthy diet – Smoking – Excessive alcohol consumption – Other medical conditions
Other medical conditions
Other medical conditions that can cause chest pain include: – Cardiac arrhythmia – Uncontrolled heartbeat that causes chest pain – Diabetes mellitus – When the lack of insulin in the body is detected, you get chest pain – Emphysema – Disease of the airway that causes chest pain
Decoding the Pains: The 7 Different Types of Chest Pain
- Angina – Angina is chest pain that occurs when the heart muscle doesn’t get enough blood. The pain is usually triggered by exercise or stress, and it’s usually felt in the center of the chest, around the breastbone. Angina is a symptom of coronary artery disease (CAD), which is caused by plaque buildup in your heart’s arteries. If you have angina, you may also experience shortness of breath and nausea along with chest pain.
- Aortic dissection – this condition occurs when your aorta – your body’s largest artery – begins to split apart and separate into two layers, which causes blood to flow between them instead of through them normally. Depending on where the dissection occurs in your aorta, you may experience sharp or stabbing chest pains that radiate down one or both arms, as well as dizziness and nausea.
- Aortic rupture – an aortic rupture can cause severe chest pains that are similar to those caused by a heart attack; however, they are usually more severe than they are with a heart attack and they typically don’t last as long (about 15 minutes vs. 20 minutes).
- Aortic stenosis – this condition occurs when the valve separating the upper chamber (left atrium) from the lower chamber (left ventricle) of your heart begins to narrow, limiting blood flow out of your heart and causing chest pain.
- Angiogram – an angiogram is a test that uses X-rays and dye to view your heart and blood vessels inside your chest. During an angiogram, a catheter is inserted into an artery or vein in your arm or leg and guided by X-ray into your heart. Dye is then injected into the catheter to make the blood vessels visible on the X-ray, allowing your doctor to see if there are any blockages in your arteries that may be causing chest pain.
- Angioplasty – this test involves inserting a long, thin tube (catheter) with a deflated balloon at its tip through a small incision in the groin or wrist up into an artery in the heart. When the balloon is inflated, it opens up blocked or narrowed coronary arteries so blood can flow more freely through them again. The catheter is then removed once the blockage has been cleared out of the artery and you’re given medication to keep it open as it heals over time.
- Anterior cord syndrome – this condition occurs when one of two main nerves that run from your spinal cord to your lower body becomes pinched due to injury or disease, causing pain in one side of your back and/or leg(s).
What To Do If You Have Chest Pain?
- Call 911 – if you experience chest pain or discomfort, call 911.
- Take your medication – if you are taking a blood thinner, take your medication as prescribed by the doctor.
- Stay calm and relax – take some deep breaths and try to relax. If you are in a crowded place, try to get to a quiet area where you can rest.
- Keep moving – do not sit down or lie down unless it’s necessary; this will prevent blood from pooling in your legs, which could cause more problems for your circulatory system if too much blood is trapped there for an extended period of time (e.g., leg cramps).
- Do not smoke – smoking increases the risk of coronary artery disease and chest pain; avoid smoking whenever possible and encourage others around you to do the same.
- Follow a healthy diet – eat a healthy, balanced diet that is low in salt and sugar.
- Exercise regularly – exercise regularly and do not smoke.
- Quit smoking – smoking increases the risk of coronary artery disease and chest pain; avoid smoking whenever possible and encourage others around you to do the same.
- Have regular medical check-ups – see your doctor at least once every year for a check-up.
- Maintain proper posture – maintain good posture by sitting up straight when you are working or studying, etc., to prevent slouching, which can put more stress on your back, neck and shoulders and can also cause muscle aches throughout the body.
The Bottom Line
Chest pain is a common condition characterized by a recurring burning or squeezing sensation in the front of the chest. Though often scary, chest pain should be taken seriously — and promptly treated. With proper diagnosis and treatment, chest pain can be effectively managed and prevented.
What is chest pain?
Chest pain is a common condition characterized by a recurring burning or squeezing sensation in the front of the chest.
How long do symptoms last?
Symptoms of chest pain can range from a few minutes to several hours or even days. Women are more likely to describe their chest pain as sharp or stabbing; men are more likely to describe it as pressure or tightness. People with diabetes may have burning sensations in the hands and feet along with the chest pain; people with gout may have joint pains along with their chest pains.