What causes chest tightness?

Chest tightness is caused by a variety of mild to serious disorders, diseases and conditions. Chest tightness can result from infection, infarction, inflammation, trauma, malignancy, and other abnormal processes. While some cases of chest tightness are due to problems with the heart, chest tightness can also be due to respiratory diseases, problems with digestion, anxiety disorders, or a pulled muscle or tendon. In children, chest tightness is usually not caused by a heart attack but may be caused by asthma or inflammation of the joints in the ribcage.

Life-threatening cardiovascular causes of chest tightness

Chest tightness can arise from problems with the structures surrounding the heart and the heart itself including:

  • Aortic dissection

  • Cardiac arrhythmias (irregular heart rhythms)

  • Congenital cardiac anomalies, disorders, and birth defects, such as coarctation of the aorta and aortic valve stenosis

  • Congestive heart failure

  • Coronary artery disease (heart disease) including coronary artery spasm or angina due to atherosclerosis (hardening and narrowing of the arteries)

  • Endocarditis (inflammation or infection of the inner lining of the heart)

  • Heart attack

  • Mitral valve insufficiency and other heart valve problems

  • Pericarditis (inflammation or infection of the tissue sac that covers the heart)

Serious or life-threatening lung-related causes of chest tightness

Chest tightness can also be caused by serious problems with the respiratory system including:

  • Asthma

  • Bronchitis

  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)

  • Pleurisy (inflammation of the lung lining)

  • Pneumonia

  • Pneumothorax or hemothorax (collapsed lung or blood around the lung)

  • Pulmonary edema

  • Pulmonary embolism

  • Pulmonary hypertension

Digestive system-related causes of chest tightness

Chest tightness can arise from gastrointestinal problems including:

  • Achalasia (disorder of the esophagus)

  • Barrett’s esophagus (abnormal esophageal lining caused by stomach acid)

  • Esophageal spasm

  • Gallbladder conditions such as cholecystitis (inflammation of the gallbladder) and gallstones

  • Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)

  • Heartburn

  • Hiatal hernia (abnormal movement of the stomach into the chest)

  • Pancreatitis and other pancreas conditions

  • Peptic ulcer

Other causes of chest tightness

Other causes of chest tightness include psychological and inflammatory conditions:

  • Anxiety attack

  • Chest injury or trauma, such as rib fracture or a bruised chest

  • Costochondritis (inflammation of the joints of the ribcage)

  • Pulled chest wall muscle (muscle strain)

  • Shingles

What are the potential complications of chest tightness?

The complications of untreated or poorly controlled chest tightness vary depending on the underlying disease, disorder or condition. Any kind of chest tightness, whether it occurs alone or is accompanied by other symptoms, should be evaluated by your doctor or health care provider. Following the treatment plan you and your health care provider develop specifically for you will minimize the risk of complications of serious or life-threatening underlying causes of chest tightness including:

  • Cardiac arrest

  • Cardiac arrhythmias (abnormal heart rhythm)

  • High carbon dioxide levels and acidosis

  • Low oxygen levels

  • Respiratory failure and respiratory arrest

  • Sepsis

  • Shock

References:

  1. Barrett’s Esophagus. National Digestive Diseases Clearinghouse, a service of the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), National Institutes of Health. www.digestive.niddk.nih.gov/ddiseases/pubs/barretts/.
  2. Chest pain. Medline Plus, a service of the National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health. http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/003079.htm.
  3. Heart Disease, Conditions. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. http://www.cdc.gov/heartdisease/signs_symptoms.htm.
  4. Non-cardiac Chest Pain. American College of Gastroenterology. http://patients.gi.org/topics/non-cardiac-chest-pain/.
INTRODUCTION

What is chest tightness?

Chest tightness includes any type of pain or discomfort that occurs between your upper belly area and your lower neck. Chest tightness can occur in any age group or population and may also be described as chest pain, chest pressure, or a feeling of burning or fullness in the chest.

... Read more about chest tightnessintroduction

SYMPTOMS

What other symptoms might occur with chest tightness?

Chest tightness often occurs in conjunction with other symptoms, which vary depending on the underlying disease, disorder or condition. For example, if chest tightness is related to an infection, you may have a fever and body aches. Pain can travel from the neck, back, and belly area to your chest.

C... Read more about chest tightnesssymptoms

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


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