What Causes Tightness In Chest: 10 Common Reasons

Have you ever felt a twinge in your chest and panicked? Next thing you know you are googling the symptoms of a heart attack and diagnosing yourself with a heart condition. It’s surprising how often chest tightness is caused due to reasons other than the heart. Chest tightness is a commonly experienced symptom by most people. The causes can be vast and varied, thus it is important to distinguish an alarming life-threatening cause from a mild harmless one. A common misconception about chest pain is that it’s always about the heart. This is not always true. It can also be a result of involvement of other body organs and structures. Every person should have a basic knowledge about the common causes of chest pain and to identify a potentially life-threatening cause.

This article enumerates a list of 10 most common causes of chest tightness. It also emphasizes on how to recognize them and what your next step should be.


10) Anxiety

One of the simplest causes of chest tightness can be anxiety. People, regardless of age, suffering from severe anxiety can experience chest discomfort. The first step to be taken in this situation is to calm down. Simple breathing exercises are a huge help and often make the pain disappear. Seeking professional help from a psychiatrist for the long term management of anxiety avoid other potential health problems too.

9) Hepatitis

Hepatitis is a liver disease commonly caused by a virus. It can also be caused by excessive alcohol consumption, medications, drugs and toxins. It is usually accompanied with other symptoms like yellowish discoloration of the skin and eyes(jaundice), pale stools, dark urine and loss of weight and appetite. If a person exhibits these along with chest tightness, then it would be best to consult a doctor.

8) Pneumonia

Pneumonia is an infection of the lungs caused most commonly by bacteria. It can often cause chest pain which increases while breathing or coughing. Fever, cough, fast heartbeat and chills are also usually present. It can also spread easily from person to person. Often, it precipitates to a medical emergency specially in children. Refer to a doctor for further management.

7) Stress

Stress is a very common state affecting bodily functions. It can cause chest pain, alter bowel movements and severely affect a person’s day-to-day life. ‘Broken heart syndrome’ is a medically recognized condition where there is a sudden temporary weakening of the muscular portion of the heart. It is also called as ‘Takotsubo/stress cardiomyopathy’ and is often triggered by the death of a loved one, a break up, rejection or trauma. If a person under such stressful conditions experiences chest discomfort, it’s better to be safe than sorry and consult a doctor.


6) Costochondritis

‘Costo’ refers to ribs and ‘itis’ indicates inflammation. Costochondritis is an inflammation of the ribs at their junctions with the breastbone. It can cause stabbing pains in the chest which can radiate to the abdomen. On pressing the ribs, the person experiences pain. If this feature is present, it is quite likely to be a diagnosis of costochondritis. It is a self limiting disease and is not life threatening. Consulting a doctor may help in the pain management.


5) Heart Attack

Heart attack, medically termed as Myocardial Infarction, is one of the most alarming causes of chest tightness. The person experiences chest pain radiating to the left arm, jaw or the back. The pain is periodic and disappears and reappears after a few minutes. They may also have excessive sweating, shortness of breath, fast heartbeat, nausea and vomiting. It is commonly caused when the blood supply to the heart is reduced because of the blockage of the blood vessels supplying it. Heart attacks are more likely to occur in the elderly and those who suffer from high blood pressures. Other factors that increase the risk are diabetes, high levels of cholesterol, obesity, smoking and lack of exercise. Those with a family history of heart attacks are also more susceptible. This is a medical emergency and if a person has any of these symptoms, they should immediately get medical help.


4) Pleurisy

Pleura is a double layered membrane that surrounds the lungs. When it becomes inflamed, the condition is called as pleurisy. It presents with sharp chest pain which worsens with breathing,coughing or sneezing. Other symptoms can be cough, shortness of breath and fever. It is commonly caused due to bacterial or viral infections. Often, there can be a buildup of fluid between the membrane layers which can complicate the disease. It is best to seek a doctor’s advice as soon as possible to avoid complications.

3) Gall bladder diseases

Gall bladder is a small 4 inch organ present on the right side under the liver. It stores bile which is necessary for the digestion of fats and vitamins. Normally, it is an organ people most likely ignore. But when things go wrong with the gall bladder, it presents as severe pain on the right side. The pain often radiates to the right shoulder. It can cause several diseases, some of which are medical emergencies. Gall bladder stones may form causing the blockage of its ducts and buildup of bile. The gall bladder may also get acutely inflamed and the person can experience fever, vomiting and severe pain. Emergency surgery may be required in a few cases.


2) Indigestion

Indigestion, called as Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease(GERD), is one of the most common causes of chest pain. People experience burning type of chest pain after a meal, usually at the center of the chest. This is why it is commonly called as ‘heartburn’. Reflux means return and there is a return of the contents of the stomach to the food pipe. Stomach contains acid and this is the cause for the burning sensation experienced. It can be easily controlled with the help of natural remedies like apple cider vinegar or baking soda and medications like antacids. Lifestyle changes and food habits can prevent this. Avoid foods like chocolate, fatty foods, alcohol, caffeine, citrus juices and spicy foods. Smoking also increases the risk of this condition.

1) Angina

Angina is simply the medical term for chest pain. It is caused due to Coronary Artery Disease. The blood vessels supplying the heart are either blocked by fat or decreased in their width due to spasms. These result in a decrease in the blood flow to the heart. A fall in blood flow causes deterioration of heart function. The heart simply cannot keep up with the demand. Exercise is another trigger for angina. The person experiences a tightness and pressure sensation in the chest. They may also experience heartburn, sweating, weakness, nausea,  and vomiting. It is one of the causes of heart attacks. Risk factors are similar to heart attacks and include smoking, obesity and high cholesterol. Angina can be managed by lifestyle changes, medication or surgery depending on its severity.

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Dr. Najeeha Ahmed

I am a doctor who is passionate about writing and reading. I devour fiction and fantasy is my favorite genre. I have been writing since I was in high school. One of my essays about democracy was published by Scholastic India in 2010.

"And by the way everything in life is writable about if you have the outgoing guts to do it, and the imagination to improvise. The worst enemy to creativity is self doubt." - Sylvia Plath

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