Chest pressure or pain can indicate a wide variety of health problems, some of which are serious or even life-threatening, and others that are much more benign. If you experience chest pressure, you may think that you're having a heart attack or some kind of heart problem. But if your chest pain or pressure is relieved by moving around, you probably aren't having a cardiovascular-related episode. Nonetheless, make sure to mention any concerns you may have to your doctor.
Structures in your chest cavity and upper torso -- like your heart, lungs, esophagus and ribs -- can cause feelings of pressure or pain for various reasons, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center. Muscles, nerves and tendons can also be sources of pressure sensations. Because chest pressure and pain are somewhat vague symptoms, the possible causes are usually categorized into heart-related and non-heart-related, depending on any other symptoms that accompany the pressure.
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Feelings of pressure, tightness or fullness in your chest can indicate that you're having a heart attack or another cardiac-related problem. Heart-related chest pain is usually accompanied by shortness of breath, nausea, dizziness, sweating and crushing pain radiating from your chest to your arms, back, shoulders, neck and jaw, notes MayoClinic.com. This type of pressure or pain typically comes and goes in varying intensities, lasting for longer than a few minutes. If your chest pressure goes away or eases when you change position or move around, this likely indicates a non-cardiac problem. Shingles and upper respiratory infections can cause chest pressure or pain along with a burning sensation, while gastrointestinal problems like gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD, causes pain or pressure right below your sternum or breastbone, notes the University of Michigan Health System.
Non-cardiac chest pressure or pain that goes away when you move around can have a wide range of causes, and only your doctor can give you a proper diagnosis. Your chest pressure could be due to respiratory problems like pneumonia, asthma, pulmonary embolism, pleurisy or a collapsed lung, says the University of Maryland Medical Center. In rare cases, lung cancer can cause chest pressure or pain. Gastrointestinal problems often cause feelings of chest pressure, particularly due to heartburn or GERD, esophageal spasms, swallowing disorders like achalasia, hiatal hernia, and pancreas or gallbladder problems like pancreatic inflammation and gallstones. Fibromyalgia and other chronic-pain diseases can cause sore muscles in your chest area, while costochondritis can cause inflammation of the cartilage between your ribs and sternum. Broken or injured ribs may also cause chest pain, but the pain usually worsens when you move around.
Don't try to self-diagnose your chest pressure or pain symptoms, as chest pressure can indicate a serious and dangerous condition. Although chest pressure that's relieved by moving usually doesn't indicate a heart-related problem, seek emergency medical attention if you have any of the other symptoms of a heart attack, or if your chest pressure becomes severe and you have trouble breathing, advises the University of Michigan Health System.
Is this an emergency? If you are experiencing serious medical symptoms, please see the National Library of Medicine’s list of signs you need emergency medical attention or call 911.