What causes chest pressure?

Chest pressure can be a symptom of a disorder such as heartburn or gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). Chest pressure accompanied by pain that changes with breathing or that radiates to your back may be pleuritic pain (usually caused by dryness or inflammation in the sac that surrounds the lungs) or muscle inflammation. Other causes of chest pressure include an anxiety or panic attack, or more serious conditions such as anaphylaxis (a life-threatening allergic reaction) or heart conditions.

Cardiovascular causes of chest pressure

Chest pressure may be caused by heart problems including:

  • Angina (chest pain or pressure due to decreased blood supply to the heart)
  • Arrhythmia (irregular heartbeat)
  • Myocardial infarction (heart attack)

Other causes of chest pressure

Chest pressure can also be caused by certain digestive, inflammatory or pulmonary disorders, or by allergic or stress-related reactions including:

  • Anaphylaxis (life-threatening allergic reaction)
  • Anxiety or panic attack
  • Chest wall muscle inflammation
  • Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
  • Pleurisy (dryness or inflammation in the sac that surrounds the lungs)

Serious or life-threatening causes of chest pressure

In some cases, chest pressure may be a symptom of a serious or life-threatening condition that should be immediately evaluated in an emergency setting. These conditions include:

  • Anaphylaxis (life-threatening allergic reaction)
  • Heart attack (myocardial infarction)
  • Pulmonary embolism (blocked blood vessel in the lungs due to a blood clot)

Questions for diagnosing the cause of chest pressure

To diagnose your condition, your doctor or licensed health care practitioner will ask you several questions related to your chest pressure including:

  • How long have you felt chest pressure? When did you first notice it?
  • Do you have pain or a pounding heartbeat with your chest pressure?
  • Have you experienced confusion with your chest pressure? Anxiety? Slurred speech?
  • Do you have trouble breathing or swallowing?
  • Does your pain change or increase either when you breathe or when you change position?
  • Do you ever regurgitate your stomach contents up into your esophagus or throat?
  • Do you have any other symptoms?

What are the potential complications of chest pressure?

Because chest pressure can be due to serious diseases, failure to seek treatment can result in serious complications and permanent damage. Once the underlying cause is diagnosed, it is important for you to follow the treatment plan that you and your health care professional design specifically for you to reduce the risk of potential complications including:

  • Collapsed lung (from pleurisy)
  • Esophageal cancer
  • Esophageal scarring
  • Heart failure
  • Respiratory failure


  1. Chest pain. MedlinePlus, a service of the National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health. http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/003079.htm.
  2. Heart attack. PubMed Health, a service of the NLM from the NIH. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMH0001246/.


What is chest pressure?

Chest pressure is the sensation of a squeezing, tightening, crushing or pressing in the chest area, with or without pain. It is sometimes described as a feeling of a band tightening around your chest or of something heavy sitting on your chest. A pressure sensation can come from a condition occurring in any part of your chest, including your chest wall muscles, esophagus, heart, lungs, nerves, ... Read more about chest pressureintroduction


What other symptoms might occur with chest pressure?

Chest pressure may accompany other symptoms, which vary depending on the underlying disease, disorder or condition. Symptoms that frequently affect the chest may involve any of several body systems.

Cardiovascular symptoms that may occur along with chest pressure

Chest pressure may accompany symptoms related to the cardiovascular system including:

Medical Reviewer: Cynthia Haines, MD Last Annual Review Date: Aug 1, 2013 Copyright: © Copyright 2014 Health Grades, Inc. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or reprinted without permission from Health Grades, Inc. Use of this information is governed by the HealthGrades User Agreement.

This Article is Filed Under: Bones, Joints and Muscles

What's Causing Your Symptoms?