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What causes chest pain?

Chest pain can be a symptom of many different conditions, some of which are more serious than others. It's best to seek medical attention for any chest pain, to check if it's heart-related.

Common causes of chest pain

Common causes of chest pain include:

  • indigestion or reflux (heartburn) – when stomach acid comes up the food pipe, and causes a burning pain in the chest
  • muscle strains
  • inflammation where the ribs join the breast bone (known as costochondritis)
  • chest infections such as bronchitis and pneumonia
  • pleurisy (inflammation of the tissue lining the lungs)
  • angina – pain caused by poor blood flow to the heart muscle, which usually occurs when the heart has to work harder than usual, for example with exercise, anxiety or high emotion, cold weather, or after eating a large meal. The pain is usually short-lived and eases with rest
  • heart attack – when the blood flow to a part of the heart muscle is blocked. Chest pain caused by a heart attack usually does not go away with rest, and urgent medical attention is necessary
  • anxiety or panic attack. This may also cause dizziness, heart palpitations, sweating and breathlessness and can last up to 20 minutes.

Less common causes of chest pain include:

  • shingles (herpes zoster) – an infection that typically causes pain, before a skin rash appears
  • mastitis, usually caused by a breast infection related to breastfeeding
  • inflammation of the gallbladder
  • a stomach ulcer
  • a pulmonary embolism – a blockage in the blood vessel that carries blood from the heart to the lungs. You may have sharp, stabbing chest pain that is worse when you breathe in
  • pericarditis – inflammation of the sac surrounding your heart.

Not sure what to do next?

If you are still concerned about your chest pain, why not use healthdirect’s online Symptom Checker to get advice on when to seek medical attention.

The Symptom Checker guides you to the next appropriate healthcare steps, whether it’s self care, talking to a health professional, going to a hospital or calling triple zero (000).

Last reviewed: July 2017

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