The feeling of tightness in the chest can be unpleasant, especially when it appears unexpectedly. Chest tightness can be intimidating, but it doesn't necessarily mean a serious health problem.
Chest tightness is common and can be due to a number of different causes, including infection, pulmonary (lung), gastrointestinal (digestive system) disease, psychological / emotional causes, and trauma.
What is chest tightness?
Chest tightness describes any discomfort that occurs between the lower neck and the upper abdomen. Chest tightness can be felt throughout the entire chest area or localized to one or more locations on the chest.
Chest tightness can occur in any age group. It is sometimes described as chest pressure, chest pain, or a feeling of fullness or heaviness in the chest.
The feeling of tightness in the chest varies from person to person depending on how you feel and how often it occurs. Some people may experience chest tightness only once, while others with certain medical conditions (such as asthma) may experience it more often.
Many people assume they have a heart attack when they experience chest tightness, but there are many reasons why you could have it.
When to call 911 for chest tightness
Call 911 if you or a loved one has unexplained chest tightness and:
· Cold sweat
A feeling of tightness in the chest.
· Difficulty breathing
Pain that radiates to the jaw, shoulder blades, or left arm
Difficulty breathing after a period of inactivity (eg, bed rest), as this may be a sign of pulmonary embolism.
Causes of chest tightness
To know if chest tightness requires medical attention, it is important to understand what conditions can trigger the sensation. Studies show that the most common causes of chest pain and tightness are musculoskeletal problems, followed by cardiovascular disease and respiratory disease. Reasons may include the following.
If you have a cold or the flu , you may have chest congestion, which feels like chest tightness. It is caused by excess mucus in the airways, which can restrict breathing and cause coughing, wheezing, and chest tightness.
In most cases, getting plenty of rest, drinking fluids such as hot tea or water, and over-the-counter medications (such as Robitussin, Mucinex, nasal spray) can help relieve nasal congestion.
COVID-19 is a viral infection that causes symptoms such as fever, dry cough, runny nose, nasal congestion, and shortness of breath. Some people with COVID-19 may experience chest tightness.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), you should seek immediate medical attention if your COVID-19 symptoms include chest tightness accompanied by shortness of breath, bluish lips, confusion, or an inability to stay awake.
Pneumonia caused by infection causes inflammation of the air sacs in the lungs. These sacs can fill with fluid or pus and cause symptoms such as fever, cough, chills, shortness of breath, pain and / or tightness in the chest. It is important to consult with your healthcare professional to obtain a diagnosis of pneumonia and a treatment plan for the condition.
Shingles is an infection caused by the varicella-zoster virus, the same virus that causes chickenpox. Shingles causes a painful rash on the body, most commonly on the trunk. In some cases, the pain caused by shingles can be so severe that it can cause chest tightness.
Antivirals and pain relievers (such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, NSAIDs) are often prescribed to relieve pain, and topical antibiotic creams are often prescribed to prevent secondary bacterial infection.
Pulmonary and cardiac causes
Symptoms of asthma include shortness of breath, chest tightness , wheezing, and coughing. If you have asthma and are exposed to lung irritants or allergens, these triggers can cause the muscles in your airways to tighten and tighten, leading to tightness, pain, and pressure in your chest.
You may be advised to use an inhaler to ease the airways and reduce symptoms. Research shows that albuterol inhalers can effectively relieve chest discomfort and symptoms of an asthma attack.
If you have chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), you may experience chest tightness from time to time. Although the main symptom of COPD is shortness of breath, you may feel chest tightness or the sensation of something engulfing your chest even when you are resting.
COPD is often treated with inhalers and nebulizers to improve breathing. Corticosteroids and phosphodiesterase-4 inhibitors are often prescribed to reduce pneumonia and alleviate exacerbations of COPD.
Coronary artery disease (CAD) is caused by narrowing of the large blood vessels known as coronary arteries, which supply oxygen to the heart. Narrow arteries can cause shortness of breath and angina (chest pain). Angina can also be characterized by tightness, heaviness, pressure, fullness, or tightness in the chest.
Your doctor may prescribe medications to help improve blood flow, prevent blood clots, and lower cholesterol or blood pressure. In some cases, you may need an interventional procedure, such as a balloon angioplasty (PTCA) or stents. These treatments can help reduce plaque build-up in the arteries and prevent future blockages.
Pulmonary hypertension (PH) is a progressive lung disease that narrows the arteries that narrow the blood from the heart to the lungs. Symptoms of PH include shortness of breath due to daily activities (such as climbing stairs), fatigue, dizziness, chest pain, and a feeling of tightness when the heart is stressed.
Although there is no cure for pulmonary hypertension, there are medications available to help treat the condition, including calcium channel blockers to lower blood pressure and diuretics to remove excess fluid from the body that puts pressure on the heart. Some patients may need a nasal cannula or oxygen mask to help them breathe easier.
Mitral valve prolapse
Mitral valve prolapse (MVP) is a bulging of one or both mitral valves in the heart. When the valves don't close properly, blood flows backward, which can cause a heart murmur and a variety of symptoms, such as tightness or chest pain.
With an MVP, you may feel chest tightness or discomfort even at rest. Medications that may be prescribed include beta-blockers to lower blood pressure, diuretics to remove excess fluid and pressure on the heart, and blood thinners to prevent blood clots.
Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM) causes the heart muscle to become abnormally thick, making it difficult for the heart to pump blood. Some people with HCM may experience shortness of breath and chest tightness.
Your doctor may prescribe medications to reduce stress on your heart muscles and slow your heart rate so that blood can be pumped more efficiently through your body.
Pericarditis is an inflammation of the protective membrane that surrounds the heart. This fine fabric allows the heart to change in size with each beat. When inflamed, it can cause chest pain, which can be worse when you lie down and breathe deeply.
Some people say that the sensation is similar to pressure in the chest or a dull ache. Sitting and leaning forward can often relieve pain.
Medications such as ibuprofen and aspirin can help reduce pain and inflammation caused by pericarditis. Your doctor may prescribe antibiotics or antifungal medications, depending on the cause of the condition.
Pleurisy (also called pleurisy ) is a condition in which the pleura, the large, thin layer of tissue that separates the lungs from the chest wall, becomes inflamed. Symptoms include sudden, sharp chest pain when inhaling or exhaling.
This condition is often treated with NSAIDs such as ibuprofen. Your healthcare provider may prescribe steroids to reduce inflammation if the pain is severe.
Pneumothorax (collapse of the lung) occurs when air leaves the lung and fills the space outside the lung between the lung and the chest wall. Air puts pressure on your lungs, so they can't expand properly when you inhale, causing chest constriction and shortness of breath.
In many cases, the collapsed lung can resolve on its own without major intervention, but it may take several weeks for it to heal completely.
Coronary artery rupture
Spontaneous Coronary Artery Dissection (SCAD) is an unusual medical emergency caused by the spontaneous rupture of a blood vessel in the heart. Symptoms include shortness of breath, chest pain, palpitations, nausea, and dizziness.
SCAD requires immediate medical attention. The long-term prognosis for SCAD is positive, but there is a risk of recurrence and close follow-up with a cardiovascular specialist is important.
Pulmonary embolism is a blockage of an artery in the lungs, usually caused by a blood clot. Symptoms include pain under the breastbone, sharp stabbing pain in the chest, and severe chest tightness, which may be made worse by breathing.
Pulmonary embolism requires immediate medical attention. You may be prescribed blood thinners to thin your blood and prevent clots from forming.
When you feel anxious, it can trigger a stress response in your body, causing your heart rate and blood pressure to increase, your blood vessels to contract, and your chest muscles to contract. It can make you feel like someone is squeezing your chest, causing tightness and shortness of breath.
When the body is in fight or flight mode, cortisol levels rise, which can lead to chest pain and tightness.
Gastrointestinal problems can cause chest tightness and pain.
Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is a condition in which the acidic contents of the stomach leak back into the esophagus, the tube that runs from the throat to the stomach.
In addition to heartburn, GERD can cause chest tightness that ranges from crushing pain to tightness that feels like a heaviness in the chest.
There are many over-the-counter medications (such as antacids) that can help relieve GERD symptoms. In some cases, your healthcare provider may prescribe stronger medications if over-the-counter formulas don't work.
In a peptic ulcer, painful ulcers or ulcers are found in the lining of the stomach or duodenum (the first part of the small intestine). In most cases, a peptic ulcer causes abdominal pain, but it can sometimes cause pain and discomfort in the chest.
Peptic ulcers are often treated with antacids to reduce stomach acid, antibiotics to kill bacteria that cause the condition, and medications that block stomach acid production (such as proton pump inhibitors like Prilosek).
Gallstones obstruct the flow of bile from the liver to the small intestine, which can cause pain that, in severe cases, can last for hours or even days. Most gallbladder symptoms start with pain in the upper abdomen, but it can also radiate to the chest wall, causing tightness and pain in the chest.
If you have gallstones, medical attention is needed and treatment depends on the cause. Researchers suggest that regular exercise and a healthy, nutritious diet are the most important ways to prevent gallstone disease.
Diseases of the esophagus
The esophagus is a muscular tube that carries food fluids from the mouth to the stomach. Certain diseases of the esophagus can cause tightness and pain in the chest, including:
- Esophageal contraction disorder
- Esophageal hypersensitivity
- Ruptured esophagus
Disorders of the esophagus can be treated with medications that reduce stomach acid and relax the muscles in the throat. In some cases, esophageal disorders that cause chest discomfort can be treated with antidepressants and even behavioral therapy to help control pain and discomfort.
As a last resort, some conditions may require surgery to repair the esophagus and relieve symptoms.
Other causes of chest tightness include:
If a muscle has been torn, especially in the chest, abdomen, or upper / middle back, you may experience tightness and pain in your chest with any activity. In some cases, the tension can be strong enough to cause pain when you breathe.
Hernia of the esophageal opening of the diaphragm.
A hiatal hernia can put pressure on the stomach because the upper part of the stomach protrudes into the chest and presses on the diaphragm. This pressure causes the stomach to trap acid, which can flow into the esophagus, causing chest discomfort, GERD, and heartburn. You may find it difficult to breathe or swallow.
You can take antacids to reduce acid reflux, and you may be prescribed medications that block and / or reduce acid production so your esophagus has a chance to heal.
A rib fracture is a common injury that occurs when the bone or bones in the chest crack or break. Rib fractures can cause severe chest pain, which can be made worse by movement or coughing. In some cases, the pain can be so severe that it causes pain and tightness in the chest.
Seek immediate medical attention if a fractured rib causes shortness of breath or heart palpitations. Rest is important when treating a fractured rib; It is important not to overdo it so that the gap heals.
Costochondritis is an inflammation of the cartilage of the chest that causes chest pain that can be felt in the middle and upper ribs on both sides of the chest. The pain may be worse if you breathe deeply, move, or stretch, and it can cause discomfort and tightness in the chest.
NSAIDs and stretching exercises can relieve pain. If not, your healthcare provider may prescribe medication or antidepressants to relieve pain.
How to relieve tightness in the chest
There are many ways to relieve chest tightness and the approaches you take will depend on the cause of the sensation. They are not a substitute for treating underlying medical conditions, but they can help relieve tension.
For chest tightness due to a respiratory infection:
- Drink liquids : Liquids help thin the mucus that causes chest congestion. In particular, warm fluids can help clear mucus from the chest and nose. Try drinking tea, soup, or water during the day to ease a stuffy nose.
- Use a humidifier : Steam from a humidifier (or hot shower) can help clear congestion. Try using it at night near your bed to relieve nasal congestion and sleep better. You may find it helpful to add peppermint essential oil to the water in a moisturizer to remove mucus from your lungs.
- Take a decongestant : Decongestants can help dissolve mucus and relieve congestion in the chest and nose. While they are not a cure for chest tightness or a virus that may be causing your infection, these medications, available over the counter as liquids, tablets, or nasal sprays, can help relieve symptoms of nasal congestion.
- Use a steam massage : Steam ointments are topical ointments that you rub into the chest and throat area. Most have a menthol-based ingredient that is believed to help clear the airways, although there is no scientific evidence for this. While this doesn't get rid of a stuffy nose, it can help you breathe a little easier and ease chest tightness.
For chest tightness due to anxiety:
- Breathing exercises : When you feel anxious, you can take quick, shallow breaths, which can increase the tightness in your chest. Try taking slow, deep breaths, inhale in five times, and exhale in five. Research shows that slow breathing can relax and reduce anxiety symptoms.
- Grounding methods : Grounding is a survival strategy that draws your attention to the present moment and your surroundings, rather than getting lost in anxious thoughts. Grounding techniques can be as simple as sitting in a chair and focusing on your body sensations (for example, how does your body feel while sitting?) To help slow down your thoughts and breathing.
- Exercise : Exercise has been shown to be effective in managing anxiety symptoms, as it can help offset the fight-or-flight response that kicks in in your body when you're feeling anxious. Try walking, running, or hitting your bag to find a way to react and calm your body's reaction to anxiety.
To relieve tightness in the chest in case of gastrointestinal problems:
- Avoid Certain Foods and Drinks – Try to avoid things that you know to cause acid reflux in your body, including tomato-based foods, soda, fried and fatty foods, garlic, chocolate, and alcohol. Try to eat nutritious, whole food rich foods that are low in fat and high in protein.
- Eat smaller amounts : Instead of eating three large meals a day, try to eat fewer nutritious foods throughout the day. Small meals can help relieve pressure on your stomach and prevent acid reflux. Avoid lying down for at least 20 minutes after eating to prevent heartburn.
- Take medications : If your healthcare provider has prescribed medications to treat the symptoms of your gastrointestinal condition, it is important that you take them exactly as prescribed and for as long as your doctor recommends.
- Stop smoking : If you use tobacco products, quitting smoking can alleviate some of the acid reflux you are experiencing. Smoking can damage the lower esophageal sphincter, preventing stomach acids from lingering and causing reflux. Quitting smoking will improve the health of your lungs and reduce chest tightness and shortness of breath.
For pulmonary causes of chest tightness:
- Take medications : Depending on the cause of your chest tightness, your doctor may prescribe medications to reduce the symptoms of this condition. It is important to take your medications as prescribed to prevent your symptoms from getting worse.
- Avoid triggers : If certain irritants or allergens cause chest tightness and shortness of breath, avoid them as often as possible.
- Rest : If your symptoms get worse with movement or vigorous activity, it is important to rest when your body needs it. If you need to exercise, a light walk outside will help you move your body without overloading the light ones.
For pectoral strains that cause pain and tightness, the first line of treatment usually includes RICE:
- Rest : When you feel chest tightness or pain due to muscle tension, stop any strenuous activity and rest. You can resume light activity after two to three days of rest, but get more rest if tension and pain return.
- Ice : Apply an ice pack to an injured / stretched muscle for up to 20 minutes, three times a day to reduce inflammation.
- Compression : Wrapping a compression bandage around your torso can help reduce swelling and relieve tightness in your chest.
- Height : Sit up straight and maintain good posture. Use extra pillows to support your breasts at night while you sleep.
Get the word of drug information
Chest tightness is of varying degrees and for different reasons. A minor case of chest tightness does not automatically indicate a serious problem; many cases are short-lived and can be treated at home.
If you experience chest tightness combined with other symptoms or ongoing episodes of sensation, it is important to speak with your healthcare provider. They will want to examine you and may perform tests to determine the cause and rule out any serious health problems that may require further treatment.
Frequently asked questions
A feeling of heaviness in the lungs can be caused by pneumothorax , also known as a collapsed lung. This happens when an opening is opened in the lung, causing air to escape and fill the area between the lung and the chest wall. Chest tightness and shortness of breath are usually associated with a collapsed lung.
Chest pain caused by COVID-19 can be described as constant pain or pressure. Other warning signs associated with COVID-19 include shortness of breath, fever, altered consciousness, and blue lips or face.
Chest pain or tightness after eating can be associated with gastrointestinal problems such as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) . This indigestion can cause stomach acid to enter the esophagus, causing a sore throat and chest.