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Why Does the Right Side of Your Chest Hurt?

by
author image Dr. Meeta Shah
A graduate of the Indiana University School of Medicine, Meeta Shah is a board certified-emergency medicine physician with 10 years of clinical experience. After years of countless patient interactions and treating various conditions, she has a wealth of experience and knowledge to share with readers.
Why Does the Right Side of Your Chest Hurt?
Young patient speaking with doctor in office. Photo Credit XiXinXing/iStock/Getty Images

Right-sided chest pain can be a frightening symptom. Several important organs, including the lungs, heart and many major blood vessels, lie within the chest cavity. Chest pain on the right can be due to something as benign as a muscle strain or it could be the sign of a major, life-threatening problem. Knowing symptoms of serious conditions can help you determine when it is time to seek medical attention.

Musculoskeletal or Traumatic

Not all right-sided chest pain is serious, as exemplified by the common side stitch -- a temporary muscle cramp in runners. But other types of chest pain caused by an injury can be persistent, incredibly painful and possibly very serious. Muscles or ligaments in the chest walI can be strained by improper movement. This pain increases when the area is touched or when the body is moved in certain ways. Chest wall strain can generally be diagnosed by your doctor performing a physical examination and eliminating other reasons for your pain. Prescription medications and rest can help heal the injury and relieve the pain. If trauma to the chest is very forceful or causes a break in the skin's surface, it may damage organs within the chest cavity. This is a medical emergency.

Infectious

Right-sided chest pain associated with fever, cough or sputum production may indicate that you have a pneumonia on that side. When bacteria, viruses or other microorganisms settle into an area of the lung, they can cause an acute infection with inflammation and pain. According to Merck Manual, pneumonia affects approximately 2 to 3 million people in the United States every year. Pneumonia is often diagnosed by abnormalities noted on a chest x-ray. Your doctor will prescribe antibiotics if she thinks the pneumonia is caused by a bacteria.

Vascular

Major blood vessels, including the aorta and pulmonary arteries, sit within the chest cavity. Pulmonary embolism, or PE, occurs when a blood clot lodges in an artery of the lung. It can produce sharp right-sided chest pain if the PE is in the right lung. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, PE causes up to 100,000 deaths in the United States every year. With a PE, your chest pain may worsen when taking deep breaths, and you may also notice shortness of breath or bloody sputum. A tear of the aorta -- the large artery leading blood from the heart to the rest of the body -- causes sharp, severe chest pain that usually occurs suddenly. It requires immediate medical attention.

Other Possibilities

There are various other reasons for right-sided chest pain. Lung cancer may be a possibility if you have persistent chest pain accompanied by shortness of breath or weight loss. Another source may be referred pain, which is pain that is caused a problem in another area of the body. The gallbladder sits directly underneath the right chest, so when it becomes inflamed, the irritation can cause referred pain upward into the right chest. Heart problems, such as a heart attack, may sometimes cause pain in the right chest, even though the heart is located primarily on the left side of the chest. This is most likely to occur if the right side of the heart is affected.

Warnings

Chest pain is a symptom you should never ignore. If right-sided chest pain is severe or worsening, you should seek immediate medical attention. Also obtain immediate medical care if your pain is accompanied by other symptoms like lightheadedness, dizziness, sweating, fever, shortness of breath or bloody sputum. Persistent pain, even without other symptoms, could indicate a serious problem and should be assessed by your doctor.

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