Chest pain is one of the most common reasons people visit the emergency room (ER), resulting in over 8 million ER visits each year. Many people worry they’re experiencing a heart attack when they feel chest pain, but it can be caused by a number of common conditions that are not life-threatening.
Muscle strain or injury, gastrointestinal or pulmonary (lung) conditions, and psychological reasons (e.g., anxiety) can all cause chest pain.
Chest pain varies in its intensity, location, and duration. Depending on the cause of your chest pain, it may feel like a dull ache or a sharp, stabbing pain. Learn more about the causes of chest pain and various home remedies to consider for relief.
What Is Angina?
Angina is a medical term used to describe chest pain or discomfort when the flow of oxygen and blood to the heart is disrupted. Angina is caused by arteries that supply blood to the heart becoming narrowed due to a build-up of fatty substances.
Angina pain is often triggered by stress or physical exertion and typically stops with rest. It may feel like squeezing, pressure, or an ache in your chest. The discomfort from angina may spread into your neck, jaw, shoulders, arms, or back. Angina can also feel like indigestion (heartburn).
There are three types of angina:
- Stable angina occurs when the heart is working harder than usual to maintain blood flow. Rest and medications can help manage this common type of angina.
- Unstable angina does not follow a pattern and may happen with or without physical exertion. This type does not go away with rest and is a sign that you may have a heart attack soon and require immediate medical attention.
- Variant angina, the rarest type, can happen when you are resting. Medications can help manage the condition.
If you are experiencing minor angina, it is important to speak with your healthcare professional to discuss your symptoms and get a diagnosis and treatment.
When you’re experiencing chest pain, it can be an unsettling feeling. Your first thought may be that you are experiencing a heart attack. While chest pain is a hallmark symptom of a heart attack, there are many things that can cause chest pain, many of which are not serious.
Chest pain causes related to the heart include:
- Angina: Chest pain caused by blockages in blood vessels leading to the heart
- Aortic dissection: Tearing of the aorta
- Cardiomyopathy: Disease of the heart muscle
- Heart attack: Blockage of blood flow to the heart to the point that it is causing heart muscle injury
- Myocarditis: Inflammation of the heart muscle
- Pericarditis: Inflammation of the sac surrounding the heart
Chest pain causes related to your digestive system include:
- Acid reflux: Heartburn
- Esophagitis: Inflammation of the esophagus
- Inflammation of the gallbladder or pancreas
- Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD): Causes acid to flow from the stomach up to the esophagus
- Gastrointestinal tract problems: Irritable bowel syndrome, ulcers
Chest pain causes related to breathing and your respiratory system include:
- Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
- Pleurisy: Inflammation of the lung tissues
- Pneumothorax: Collapsed lung
- Pulmonary embolism: Blood clot in the lungs
Chest pain causes that are psychological include:
When to Call 911
Chest pain can be a symptom of a heart attack or other cardiac event. Call 911 if you have chest pain that feels crushing or like squeezing along with any of the following symptoms:
- Fast or irregular pulse
- Nausea or vomiting
- Pain that spreads from the chest to the neck, jaw, shoulders, or arms
- Shortness of breath
- Weakness/inability to stand or walk
Treating Minor Chest Pain at Home
There are a number of home remedies you can try at home to alleviate minor chest pain. These remedies should only be used if you are certain your chest pain is not caused by something serious, such as angina (heart pain). Home remedies that help alleviate minor chest pain caused by digestive issues or muscle strain include:
Baking Soda for Heartburn
Many people believe that baking soda—sodium bicarbonate—provides relief for heartburn. Mix 1/2 teaspoon of baking soda with 4 ounces of warm or cold water and drink. Baking soda neutralizes acid and may help prevent heartburn after eating.
Studies show that baking soda is effective at reducing acid reflux, but it may have adverse effects on the heart, so it’s important to use this remedy moderately. Baking soda contains sodium, so do not try this if you are on a low-sodium diet.
Speak with your healthcare provider if you are on prescription medications or have a chronic health condition before using baking soda for heartburn. Further, if your symptoms of heartburn have lasted more than two weeks, you should see your healthcare provider to be evaluated for complicated reflux or secondary causes for the symptom.
Cold Packs for Muscle Pain
Chest muscle strain is a common cause of chest pain. If you have chest pain due to muscle strain or injury, icing the area with a cold pack a few times a day may help reduce pain and inflammation. Research shows that applying cold packs can help reduce chest pain and may decrease the need for pain relievers, such as ibuprofen and acetaminophen.
Ginger for Gastric Pain
If you’re experiencing chest pain from gastrointestinal issues, ginger may help thanks to its anti-inflammatory effects. Ginger is frequently used as a home remedy for gastric issues such as gas, bloating, gastritis, ulcers, and indigestion.
Ginger contains compounds that are said to relieve irritation in the gastrointestinal tract and reduce gastric contractions. Research suggests the antioxidant properties in ginger may contribute to the gastroprotective effects of ginger. Ginger is also known to soothe an upset stomach and prevent nausea and vomiting.
Again, if your symptoms of stomach pain have lasted more than two weeks, you should see your healthcare provider to be evaluated for an ulcer or other concerning secondary causes for the symptom.
Hot Lemon Water for Gas Pain
While there are no studies that support it, some people think lemon juice can stimulate healthy digestion—helping break down food more efficiently and making it easier for the digestive system to absorb nutrients more efficiently. However, others find that lemons and other citrus fruits may make their acid reflux worse.
To try this remedy, mix 1 tablespoon of fresh lemon juice with 8 ounces of hot or cold water, and drink approximately 20 minutes before eating to help prevent gastrointestinal discomfort, such as gas pain.
Remember to check with your healthcare provider if your symptoms have persisted for more than two weeks.
Turmeric for Inflammation
Inflammation can cause a host of issues in the body and plays a role in many diseases and chronic conditions, including gastrointestinal conditions. Turmeric—a plant related to ginger—is a spice that comes from the root of turmeric plants.
Curcumin—the main active ingredient in turmeric—is known to reduce inflammation in the body, and scientists see it as a promising therapeutic option in treating and managing gastrointestinal conditions.
Research shows the compounds found in turmeric reduce cholesterol and may help prevent heart disease. You can take turmeric as a supplement (available over the counter) or use it as a spice when cooking.
A Word From Get Meds Info
There are many conditions that can cause chest pain, including cardiac (heart) issues, acid reflux, muscle strain or injury, anxiety, and asthma, to name just a few. Chest pain can also be a symptom of a life-threatening condition, so it’s important to seek immediate medical attention if you think you may be experiencing a heart attack or other cardiac problem.
Home remedies can be helpful in reducing minor chest pain, but if you are experiencing frequent, intense, or unrelenting chest pain, seek the advice of your healthcare professional. They can make a diagnosis for your chest pain and recommend treatments and medications to help manage your condition.