Chest Tightness

Chest tightness can be caused by many things and it may be difficult to pinpoint the reason for your discomfort on your own. Because it could be a symptom of a serious medical condition, it should not be ignored. It is described as a tight feeling or pressure in your chest that occurs anywhere from your neck to your upper abdomen.

Tightness in the chest can occur with or without pain. When you experience it, you may feel like you have difficulty breathing and other symptoms. You could be short of breath, have wheezing, coughing, and pain when you take a deep breath. The symptoms you experience along with your chest discomfort will depend upon the cause and can also include nausea, indigestion, a fluttery feeling in your heart, dizziness, and gray skin color.


Chest tightness can arise from any organ in your chest, your heart, lungs, esophagus, or even your ribs, tendons, and muscles. Many people associate it with a heart attack but there are other medical conditions that can cause it. Heart problems that cause pericarditis, or inflammation of the heart tissue and angina. Angina can feel like tightness, heavy pressure, squeezing, or even crushing pain. Heart attack pain is usually more severe in men, but women tend to have less pain and feel tightness and discomfort instead when having an attack.

Lung disease and infection can cause tightness as the airways swell and spasm. Asthma is often accompanied by a feeling of chest constriction. Inflammation anywhere in the chest can cause a feeling of tightness. This includes: costochondritis, or an inflammation along the ribs. Heartburn and stomach problems as well as esophageal spasms can all contribute to the condition.

Anxiety and panic attacks are common causes as well. In fact, many of the symptoms of an anxiety attack mimic those of a heart attack. People often find out they are suffering from panic attacks after rushing to the ER with heart attack symptoms. Because it can be life threatening, it is best to be on the safe side when experiencing chest tightness especially when it is accompanied by other symptoms.

Treatment - What to do

Treatment depends upon the cause. If you know the cause is from muscle strain due to coughing or over-exertion, you can treat it at home by resting and using heat or ice. Likewise, if you have a chronic condition like asthma or angina, your doctor has probably given you instructions on dealing with tightness when it flares up. Be sure to follow your doctor's orders carefully to prevent further complications from developing.

Call your doctor if you have chest tightness accompanied by a cough or lung infection, or if you are having problems swallowing. Or call 911 if your symptoms are sudden and accompanied by pain or pressure in your chest, radiate to your jaw, arm, or shoulder blades, or if you have dizziness, nausea, sweating, shortness of breath, and a racing heart.

Your doctor can run medical tests like a chest x-ray to determine the cause of your chest discomfort. If caused by a lung infection, antibiotics may be indicated. If caused by heart problems, medications or medical treatments may be necessary. If your chest symptoms are caused by anxiety, mental health interventions may be able to help.

The only way to know for sure how to treat chest tightness is to uncover the cause by having a thorough medical examination. Not only will proper treatment make you feel better physically, it can give you peace of mind when you don't have to worry about the health of your heart.


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