Chest pain on the left side is usually thought to be caused by a heart attack. However, many people experience chest pain that is due to other causes not linked to the heart. While many of these conditions may be serious and can pose a threat to life, some do not constitute a medical emergency. In any case, it is best to seek medical consultation especially if you are in doubt.
A chest pain may be characterized as sharp or dull, burning, stabbing or aching, or it may be felt as a tight crushing or squeezing sensation. The pain may radiate to the neck, the back or to the upper abdomen. It may last a few seconds or minutes, or may occur on and off for hours or days.
This article will present some of the more common causes associated with chest pain.
Causes of Chest Pain on the Left Side
Chest pain on the left side may be caused by problems of the heart, lungs or other organs and structure located in this area.
1. Heart Problems
The most common heart problems that cause chest pain include:
- Angina. Chest pain caused by a blockage in blood vessels of the heart is due to the reduction in blood flow, which deprives the heart of its oxygen supply. The pain may spread to other parts of the body such as the jaw, arm, shoulder, and back. You may feel squeezing or pressure in the chest and this may be triggered by emotional distress, excitement, or exercise. The chest pain is usually relieved by rest.
- Heart attack. Significant reduction of blood flow and oxygen supply to the heart causes the muscle cells of the heart to die. A chest pain during a heart attack is more severe, and the crushing pain is accompanied by nausea, sweating, and severe body weakness which is not relieved by resting.
- Myocarditis. Inflammation of the heart muscles may cause chest pain, fever, difficulty in breathing and fatigue, resembling that of heart attacks.
- Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. Heart disease can cause thickening of the heart muscles, leading to heart failure. The heart works harder to pump the blood, but fails to deliver it to the body, causing not only chest pain, but also dizziness, shortness of breath, lightheadedness, and many other symptoms.
- Mitral valve prolapse. When the heart valve fails to function properly, chest pain on the left side may be experienced, accompanied by other symptoms like palpitations, lightheadedness and dizziness. However, when the condition is mild, you may not experience any symptom.
2. Lung Problems
The most common lung problems that cause chest pain include:
- Asthma. Inflammation of the airways is a common disorder that causes chest tightness, shortness of breath, coughing wheezing, and at times, chest pain.
- Pleuritis. Inflammation of the lung linings can cause a sharp chest pain, which occurs when breathing, coughing, or sneezing. Causes of chest pain due to pleuritis include viral or bacterial infection, pneumothorax, and pulmonary embolism.
- Pneumonia/lung abscess. Lung infections cause chest pain, which is described as a deep aching pain. Pneumonia can develop suddenly and may be accompanied by cough, fever, and chills. Pus may be coughed out from the lungs.
- Pulmonary embolism. This occurs when a blood clot from a distant location such as the legs is carried by the blood and gets stuck in the lungs, leading to acute pleuritis, difficulty breathing, and rapid heartbeats. Fever and circulatory shock may occur. Pulmonary embolism occurs as a complication of deep vein thrombosis, which may be due to prolonged immobility.
- Pulmonary hypertension. High blood pressure in the arteries of the lungs causes the right side of your heart to work harder, leading to chest pain which resembles angina.
3. Gastrointestinal Problems
The most common gastrointestinal problems that cause chest pain include:
- GERD. Also known as Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease, this condition occurs when your stomach acids move backward towards the throat, causing chest pain, which is often regarded as heartburn. It is also accompanied by a sour taste in your mouth and may be triggered by smoking, eating fatty or spicy foods, pregnancy, and obesity.
- Peptic ulcer. Painful sores may occur in the stomach and small intestine, causing vague, recurring upper abdominal pain, which may radiate to the chest. This condition is common among people who take painkillers, smoke or drink alcohol often. Pain is often relieved by eating or taking antacids.
- Hiatal hernia. This is a common problem that occurs when the top portion of the stomach is pushed into the left lower chest especially after eating. The chest pain on the left side gets worse when lying down.
- Pancreatitis. Pain in your lower chest that becomes worse when lying flat and gets better when leaning forward may be due to an inflammation of the pancreas.
- Gallbladder problem. Chest pain, right upper abdominal pain or a feeling of fullness whenever you eat a fatty meal may be due to a gallbladder problem.
4. Bone, Muscle, or Nerve Problems
Other common causes of left-sided chest pain include:
- Rib fracture. Trauma or rib injury can cause chest pain that may worsen with coughing or during deep breathing. The pain is usually confined to an area which may feel sore when pressed. Inflammation of the area where ribs attach to the breastbone may also cause chest pain.
- Muscle strain. Sometimes hard coughing can cause inflammation of chest muscles and tendons between ribs, causing chest pain. The pain may persist and becomes worse with activity.
- Shingles. This is a late complication of chicken pox, which is caused by varicella zoster virus. It produces sharp, band-like chest pain which precedes the appearance of a rash.
5. Other Potential Causes
Chest pain may be brought about by severe anxiety or panic attacks. It may be accompanied by palpitations, dizziness, shortness of breath, tingling sensations, and trembling.
When to See a Doctor
Not all chest pain on the left side is due to a heart attack. Although you may have mild symptoms that may go away without immediate treatment, call a doctor especially if you experience other symptoms. You may also need a medical evaluation if your symptoms persist or get worse.
Call your doctor immediately if you have chest pain
- And you are responsible for others’ lives (Are you a bus driver, pilot, or child caregiver?)
- And it is not relieved by medicine, or it occurs even with little activity or at rest
- For the first time and symptoms are similar to those of angina or heart attack.
Let the doctor know if are at risk for heart disease, such as having a personal or family history of heart attack.
When to Call 911
Call emergency medical services if you have symptoms of a heart attack that last longer than five minutes. Always call for emergency care if you have the following symptoms:
- Crushing pain or squeezing sensation in the chest
- Shortness of breath
- Chest pain spreads to the jaw, neck, shoulder or arm
- Fast/irregular pulses
- Severe weakness/inability to walk or stand
If you are not allergic to aspirin, take one pill (325 mg) after calling 911.