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If you have a pain in the left side of your chest, your first thought may be that you’re having a heart attack. While chest pain can indeed be a symptom of heart disease or heart attack, that’s not always the case.

Keep reading to learn more about the causes of pain in the left side of the chest, what the accompanying symptoms might be, and suggestions for actions you can take to address each.

Chest pain, or chest heaviness, in general is a concern for heart attack or other life-threatening condition for which every minute matters. Call 911 or your local emergency services if you or someone near you has unexplained left sided or generalized chest pain along with:

  • feeling of pressure or tightening of the chest
  • shooting pain, which is especially concerning down the left arm, left side of the neck, and left side of the jaw
  • breathing difficulties
  • weakness, lightheadedness, or dizziness
  • nausea or vomiting
  • chest heaviness

Several conditions can cause pain in the left side of your chest. They range from benign to potentially life threatening. If you’re ever in doubt about the potential cause of the pain in the left side of your chest, you should seek emergency medical services immediately.

Below are some common causes of left sided chest pain.

Angina isn’t a disease. Instead, it’s often a symptom of coronary heart disease, though other heart conditions may also cause it to occur. Angina is the chest pain, chest heaviness, discomfort, or pressure you get when your heart muscle isn’t getting enough oxygen from blood. The pain and discomfort typically include your left arm, left shoulder, left side of your neck, and left side of your jaw. You might also have discomfort in your back.

It’s crucial that the underlying condition is properly diagnosed and treated. Diagnostic testing may include:

Treatment will depend on the cause, and may include medication, lifestyle changes, and cardiac procedures as necessary.

A heart attack is when the heart muscle is damaged because it can’t get enough oxygen-rich blood. Some heart attacks start with mild chest pain that builds up slowly. They can also start quite abruptly, with intense pain on the left side or center of your chest. Other symptoms of heart attack can include:

  • tightening, squeezing, or crushing pressure in your chest
  • pain in your left arm, though it can also occur in your right arm
  • shooting pain in your neck, jaw, back, or stomach
  • shortness of breath
  • heartburn, nausea, or vomiting
  • lightheadedness, weakness, or dizziness

Heart attack symptoms in women

Symptoms of heart attack vary from person to person. Both men and women can experience chest pain or discomfort, gassiness or heartburn, shortness of breath, or pain and discomfort in the shoulders, arms, neck, or jaw. However, women are more likely to experience:

  • unusual tiredness
  • nausea
  • lightheadedness

If you or someone near you experiences these symptoms, seek immediate medical attention. With a heart attack, every second counts. The longer the heart muscle is deprived of oxygen, the greater the chances that the damage will be permanent.

Emergency care can begin as soon as medical personnel arrive. After a hospital stay, you may need to continue medication. Lifestyle modifications can include:

Myocarditis is a rare cause of cardiovascular disease that is caused by inflammation in the heart. Doctors often cannot identify a cause, but when they can, the cause is typically an viral infection.

Chest pain can be an indication that your heart muscle is inflamed. Other symptoms include:

  • shortness of breath
  • abnormal heart rhythm (arrhythmia)
  • fatigue

Myocarditis can affect your heart’s electrical system, weakening your heart or causing permanent damage to the heart muscle. In some cases, a person can experience cardiac arrest or death.

Mild cases sometimes improve without treatment, but severe cases may require medication. Treatment depends on the cause.

Cardiomyopathy is a disease of the heart muscle or enlarged heart. It’s possible to have cardiomyopathy without symptoms, but it can also cause chest pain. Other symptoms can include:

  • shortness of breath
  • dizziness or fainting
  • heart palpitations
  • fatigue
  • swelling of your ankles, feet, legs, hands, or abdomen

Treatment involves medications, cardiac procedures, and surgery. Certain lifestyle changes may help, too. These can include:

  • reducing salt intake
  • maintaining a moderate weight
  • avoiding alcohol
  • engaging in light to moderate exercise on a regular basis

The pericardium is the two thin layers of tissue that surround your heart to help keep it in place. When this area becomes inflamed or irritated, it’s known as pericarditis.

Pericarditis can cause a sharp stabbing pain on the left side or middle of your chest. You might also have pain in one or both shoulders.

You may experience pericarditis due to infections, heart surgery, heart attack, injury, or medications.

It may be mild and even clear up on its own, but it can sometimes lead to heart abnormalities that can be fatal. Treatment depends on the underlying cause.

Panic attacks come on abruptly and tend to peak within 10 minutes. Due to chest pain, chest tightness, and other symptoms, a panic attack can simulate a heart attack. In addition to chest pain, some other symptoms are:

  • shortness of breath
  • rapid heartbeat
  • shakiness or dizziness
  • sweating, hot flashes, or chills
  • nausea
  • feelings of unreality or detachment
  • feeling as though you might choke
  • intense fear or sense of doom

If you think you’ve had a panic attack, see a doctor. Other health problems, such as heart and thyroid disorders, can produce similar symptoms, so you want to be certain of the diagnosis.

How to ease a panic attack

Panic disorder is a mental health problem that can be treated. Your doctor may recommend psychotherapy or cognitive behavioral therapy. If it’s an ongoing problem, there are some medications that might help.

In order to ease a panic attack, you might find it helpful to:

  • practice stress management and relaxation techniques
  • join a support group
  • stay away from caffeine, tobacco, alcohol, and recreational drugs
  • engage in regular physical activity
  • make sure you get a full night’s sleep every night

Heartburn is the chest pain and discomfort you get when digestive acid flows up into your esophagus (acid reflux or gastroesophageal reflux). You might also have:

  • a burning sensation in your upper abdomen and chest
  • sour or metallic taste in your mouth
  • stomach contents flowing up to the back of your throat

Heartburn generally happens fairly soon after you’ve eaten. It can also happen when you lie down within a few hours of eating. It can even wake you from a sound sleep.

Acid reflux can sometimes progress to a more severe form called gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). The main symptom of GERD is frequent heartburn. In addition to chest pain, GERD can also cause coughing, wheezing, and trouble swallowing.

Treating heartburn

You can usually ease heartburn with over-the-counter antacids. A doctor can prescribe a stronger medication if necessary. If you have frequent heartburn, it might help to:

  • eat smaller meals
  • avoid fried or fatty foods
  • eat slowly
  • avoid alcohol and tobacco
  • maintain a moderate weight
  • don’t eat food before bed
  • avoid other foods that may be a trigger to you

A hiatal hernia is when the upper part of your stomach pushes through the large muscle between your abdomen and chest (diaphragm). Symptoms can include:

  • chest pain
  • abdominal pain
  • heartburn
  • regurgitation of food into your mouth

You can ease symptoms by:

You may not need any treatment, but see a doctor if symptoms persist.

Chest pain can mean that there’s something wrong with your esophagus. For example:

  • An esophageal muscle spasm can mimic the same type of chest pain as a heart attack.
  • The lining of your esophagus can become inflamed (esophagitis), causing burning or sharp chest pain. Esophagitis can also cause pain after meals, swallowing problems, and blood in your vomit or stools.
  • An esophageal rupture, or tear, lets food leak into your chest cavity, causing mild to severe chest pain. It can also lead to nausea, vomiting, and rapid breathing.

Treatment depends on cause. An esophageal rupture must be surgically repaired.

Chest pain can be the result of pulled, strained, or sprained muscles in your chest or between the ribs. Any injury to your chest can cause chest pain. This includes:

  • bruising of your chest wall
  • fractured breastbone (sternum)
  • fractured ribs

This type of injury may also cause pain when you take a deep breath or cough.

If you believe you’ve broken a bone, see a doctor right away. It can take about 10 weeks to improve and even longer to fully recover. In the meantime, you’ll have to avoid strenuous activity.

Sudden and sharp pain on either side of your chest could be the result of a collapsed lung (pneumothorax). This can be due to disease or from trauma to your chest. Other symptoms can include:

  • shortness of breath
  • rapid breathing or heartbeat
  • skin turning blue
  • dry cough
  • fatigue

Treatment will depend on the cause, but it’s important to seek medical help immediately.

Sharp or stabbing chest pain that worsens when you take a deep breath or cough could mean you have pneumonia, especially if you’ve recently had a respiratory illness such as bronchitis or influenza.

Other symptoms may include:

  • cough, sometimes with mucus
  • fever, chills, or shaking
  • shortness of breath
  • headache
  • loss of appetite
  • fatigue

See a doctor if you think you have pneumonia. In the meantime, get plenty of rest and drink a lot of fluids. Your doctor may prescribe antibiotics or antivirals. In severe cases, hospitalization may be necessary.

Chest pain can sometimes be a symptom of lung cancer. Other and symptoms may include:

  • intense coughing, coughing up mucus or blood
  • pain in your shoulder or back, unrelated to pain from coughing
  • shortness of breath
  • recurring bouts of bronchitis or pneumonia
  • loss of appetite or unexplained weight loss

Symptoms may not appear in early stage lung cancer. In general, the sooner you receive a diagnosis and treatment, the better the outcome.

Pulmonary hypertension is high blood pressure in your lungs. In addition to chest pain, it can cause:

  • dizziness or fainting
  • shortness of breath
  • loss of energy

As the disease progresses, it can lead to irregular heartbeat and racing pulse. Untreated, it can lead to heart failure.

A sudden, sharp chest pain can be an indication of pulmonary embolism (PE). PE is a blood clot in your lungs. Other symptoms may include:

  • back pain
  • lightheadedness
  • bluish tone to lips
  • excessive sweating
  • dizziness
  • coughing
  • shortness of breath

This is a medical emergency that calls for immediate treatment.

Several conditions share symptoms that include chest pain. If you have chest pain for no known reason, consult with a doctor so you can start working toward a diagnosis.

Sudden chest pain accompanied by symptoms such as trouble breathing, pressure on your chest, and dizziness could signal a life-threatening emergency. Get help immediately.