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The Many Causes of Chest Pain

Chest pain is one of the hallmark symptoms of a heart attack for most people, and if you’re having chest pain, heart attack is probably the first concern that comes to mind. 

The fact is, though, chest pain has lots of potential causes. Determining what’s causing your chest pain is the first step in getting the right treatment. 

At our practices in Tomball, Cypress, Magnolia, & The Woodlands, Texas, the team at Northwest Houston Heart Center uses state-of-the-art techniques and technology to diagnose and treat chest pain, using a patient-centered approach for optimal outcomes. Here’s what you should know about chest pain and its treatment.

Common causes of chest pain

There are lots of common (and uncommon) causes of chest pain, some life-threatening and some not. Since there’s no way to make that determination on your own, it’s very important to consult a doctor right away if you have serious or chronic pain to avoid serious complications.

The following is a quick overview of some of the more common causes of chest pain.


Angina (or angina pectoris) happens when blood flow to your heart is blocked, usually by a narrowed artery. Less commonly, angina is caused by vasospasm, a condition that causes your coronary arteries to contract or “spasm,” decreasing circulation to your heart. 

Heart attack

A heart attack happens when blood flow to your heart is blocked. Heart attacks are associated with coronary artery disease or atherosclerosis (“hardening” of the arteries). In addition to chest pain, heart attacks may also cause symptoms like:

Heart attack symptoms can vary widely between women and men, and even among members of the same sex. 

Pericarditis or myocarditis

Pericarditis is inflammation of the sac surrounding your heart, while myocarditis is inflammation of the heart muscle. Both of these issues can cause serious problems if not treated right away — and both can cause chronic and worsening chest pain.

Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)

GERD happens when the muscle band (or sphincter) separating your esophagus and your stomach malfunctions, allowing acid to move backward into your esophagus. It’s similar to heartburn, but it’s typically chronic, requiring medical intervention or medication.

Gallbladder disease

Your gallbladder stores bile that’s used to break down fats in the foods you eat. If you have a gallstone or another problem with your gallbladder, you can wind up having pain in your chest, back, and shoulder.

Lung problems

Several lung problems can cause chest pain, including:

Even some respiratory infections, like pneumonia, can cause chest pain.

Bone or muscle issues

A broken rib can cause chest pain, including both acute and chronic pain (depending on the severity of the break). Other bone-related causes include arthritis and costochondritis, an inflammation of the cartilage that keeps your ribcage flexible. Muscle strains in your chest or back can also cause chest pain.

Panic attack

Chronic stress and outright panic attacks can cause chest pain, along with shortness of breath, dizziness, nausea, and other symptoms similar to those caused by heart attacks. 

Diagnosing and treating chest pain

Because so many medical issues can cause chest pain, getting an accurate diagnosis is essential. At Northwest Houston Heart Center, diagnosis begins with a thorough exam, including an electrocardiogram (EKG), a physical exam, and blood tests. 

We may also order a chest X-ray or other imaging studies, including cardiac stress tests to evaluate your heart during physical activity. In some instances, our team may recommend a Holter monitor, a device you wear that monitors your heart activity for 24 hours.

If your chest pain is heart-related, our team will recommend treatment to help relieve your symptoms and protect your heart. Depending on your needs, your plan might include lifestyle changes, medication, or surgery to restore blood flow.

Don’t ignore chest pain

Bottom line: Chest pain isn’t normal. If you’re having chest pain, getting prompt medical care is essential to help you stay healthy.

If you think you’re having a heart attack, call 9-1-1 for emergency treatment. For non-emergent symptoms, call Northwest Houston Heart Center or book an appointment online right away, so our team can help you start treatment as soon as possible.

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