Most people are familiar with chest pain as a symptom of heart attack, but many think the telltale pain is confined to the left side. However, chest pain before a heart attack -- especially during strenuous exercise -- can occur anywhere in the chest. Of course, not all chest pain signals a heart attack -- you may have heartburn, indigestion, a strained muscle or even a gall bladder issue. Certain lung conditions can also cause chest pain.
Heartburn and indigestion are very common, and are the most likely symptoms of chest pain. In fact, vigorous high-impact exercise like running can trigger both conditions, especially if you've eaten too close to your workout session. The impact from the exercise jogs the gastrointestinal organs, and the blood supply gets diverted to your muscles. The result is that digestion is interrupted, and your meal "repeats" on you. Indigestion usually causes pain in the upper abdomen, and can be accompanied by belching and nausea. Heartburn produces a burning sensation in the chest and throat, and can be a cause of chronic sore throat. Antacids can help reduce the symptoms, and medications called proton pump inhibitors can be especially helpful in reliving exercise-induced symptoms by suppressing the production of acid.
If you've been doing an unfamiliar exercise or strength-training your upper body, you may simply have a pulled pectoral muscle. Pain from other conditions is usually constant, no matter your position. A pulled muscle could be the culprit if the pain only occurs when you move your right arm or roll your right shoulder. Rest the muscle for a few days, applying ice as needed to control swelling. Use an over-the-counter pain reliever to reduce inflammation, and gradually return to exercise as the pain subsides. If the pain gets worse or doesn't get better within a few days, see your doctor.
People associate chest pain with the heart, but your lungs are in there too, and several lung conditions can cause chest pain. If you are also short of breath, wheezing and can't seem to take in enough air, you may have asthma. If you have a sharp chest pain that gets worse when you take a deep breath, pneumonia could be to blame. A sharp pain can also signal an inflammation of the lining around the lung, a blood clot or a collapse of a small area of your lung. Seek medical attention for any of these conditions.
When to See a Doctor
If your pain is sudden and includes a crushing pressure, radiates to your arm, jaw or back and your heart rate climbs, seek emergency medical attention. See you doctor if you have a fever, a phlegm-producing cough or problems swallowing. If you have a feeling of fullness after a greasy or fatty meal, especially if the pain is lower in the right side of your chest, you may be having a gall bladder attack, which also requires medical attention.