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What Are the Most Common Causes of Severe Chest Pain?

Heartburn may be the cause of severe chest pain.
Bruises or breaks in the rib cage can cause chest pain.
Article Details
  • Written By: Susan Grindstaff
  • Edited By: Heather Bailey
  • Last Modified Date: 25 July 2014
  • Copyright Protected:
    2003-2014
    Conjecture Corporation
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Pain in the area of the chest is a common complaint and most of the time is not the result of serious health conditions. Common ailments such as indigestion, heartburn, and pneumonia are often the cause of severe chest pain. In some cases, however, severe chest pain can indicate serious or life-threatening conditions such as heart attack or angina.

Angina is a condition resulting from fat deposits in the arteries blocking blood flow to the heart. Angina can cause severe chest pain, and is also commonly associated with “referred” pain. An attack of angina can sometimes lead to shoulder, jaw, and neck pain. Coronary heart disease is usually the underlying cause of angina. Treatment for angina can include changes in diet in order to reduce fat intake and medications such as nitroglycerin pills or patches.

Heart attacks often cause severe chest pain that is accompanied by a crushing sensation in the chest. Other symptoms can include difficulty breathing and blurred vision. Sometimes chest pain resulting from a heart attack can be preceded by heavy sweating and heart palpitations. Some heart attack victims may also experience pain or numbness on one side of the body, particularly in the face, arms, and hands. Surviving a heart attack often requires immediate emergency treatment.

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Buildup of stomach gasses can cause the same type of pain and crushing sensation in the chest area as heart attacks do. Though the conditions are often confused, severe chest pain resulting from indigestion is typically not accompanied by other heart attack symptoms such as numbness, sweating, or irregular heartbeat. Stomach gas can be treated with over-the-counter medications containing simethicone or by drinking a carbonated beverage to help induce belching.

A buildup of mucus in the lungs can sometimes lead to pneumonia or pleurisy, both of which can cause inflammation of lung tissue. Sometimes this inflammation can be quite painful, especially when deep breathing is attempted. Treatment for these conditions usually involves antibiotics, and may include respiratory inhalers to help loosen phlegm.

Sometimes severe chest pain can be caused by ribs that are broken or bruised. Rib injuries are often extremely painful and usually take a couple of months to heal. Chest pain resulting from rib injuries usually worsens with movement, and the chest area is often painful to the touch. In most cases, the primary treatment for broken ribs involves pain management and restriction of physical activity.

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