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What is the Connection Between Stress and Chest Pain?

The connection between stress and chest pain is related to the body's response to stress. Whether stress is a constant problem or a rare occurrence in one's life, when it does occur, the body is flooded with stress hormones such as cortisol in preparation for a "fight or flight" response. When this happens, one of the primary responses in the body is a tightening of the muscles, especially the muscles in the shoulders, back, and chest. The muscles may remain tight even after the stressor has passed.

Unfortunately, it can be difficult to distinguish chest pain caused by stress as compared to chest pain caused by a heart attack. Generally, chest pain due to a heart attack will worsen with any physical activity, even walking. In addition, a heart attack may be accompanied by nausea or pain in the left arm or jaw, as well as shortness of breath or the feeling of a heavy weight on the chest. It is sill possible to be having a heart attack without experiencing any of these symptoms, however, so if in doubt, it is better to call for help and be safe.

There are ways to reduce stress and chest pain. Some people find that consciously trying to take deep breaths and relax the muscles can prevent that muscle tightness that leads to the pain from occurring. In addition, if stress and chest pain do occur, sometimes stretching the muscles or taking a hot bath or shower can help to relieve the tightness. Anti-inflammatory medications can also help to relieve the pain caused by stress. Muscle pain caused by stress is often not just isolated to the chest; many people experience pain in the shoulders and upper back as well, which can lead to tension headaches and fatigue.

Persistent stress and chest pain can potentially lead to high blood pressure and heart disease, so it is important to deal with the cause of the stress as soon as possible. Exercise can not only relieve muscle tension, it can also help to reduce overall stress and lower the risks of heart disease in the future by lowering blood pressure, encouraging weight loss, and boosting the endurance of the heart and lungs. Other methods of relaxation, such as yoga or meditation, can also help to relieve stress and chest pain.

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