Acid Reflux / GERD GastroIntestinal / Gastroenterology

Causes and treatments for a burning chest

Numerous conditions can cause chest burning, including:

Heartburn

Woman holding her chest due to chest burningShare on PinterestA common cause of chest burning is heartburn.

Heartburn, or acid reflux, is one of the most common causes of painful burning in the chest.

The sensation ranges from mild discomfort to intense pain.

Heartburn occurs when acid from the stomach travels back up the esophagus. It is more common in pregnant women, people with gastroesophageal reflux disease, and those with a hiatal hernia.

Consuming acidic foods and drinks, such as tomatoes and alcohol, may increase the risk of heartburn. Smoking tobacco can also increase the risk.

Some other symptoms of heartburn include:

  • burping
  • burning in the throat
  • pain that begins shortly after a meal
  • pain that gets worse when lying down

Other gastrointestinal problems

Other gastrointestinal problems may also cause burning chest pain. Some may cause symptoms that mimic those of heartburn.

For example, people with gallstones or liver health problems may experience intense heartburn.

If the pain does not get better after taking an antacid or other heartburn medication, the problem might be due to something else, such as gallstones, liver disease, or pancreatitis.

Some other signs of serious gastrointestinal problems include:

  • very dark urine
  • very light or infrequent bowel movements
  • intense pain anywhere in the abdomen, but especially in the upper right side, under or near the ribs

Muscle or bone injuries

Muscle injuries can cause intense burning in the chest, especially when using the injured muscle to lift heavy objects. Injuries to cartilage or bone may also cause pain and burning in the chest.

Burning chest pain may be a sign of an injured muscle or a problem with bone or cartilage if:

  • the pain appears only in certain positions or while lifting heavy objects
  • the pain changes with massage or pressure on the area
  • there is swelling in the painful area of the chest

Panic attack

A panic attack can occur when a person feels overwhelmed with anxiety or panic. The heart may race and cause pain or discomfort in the chest. As the panic worsens, so too can the pain.

A panic attack will not cause a heart attack, but the two can feel similar. When the symptoms occur following a trauma, or in a person with a history of anxiety or panic, a panic attack is more likely than a heart attack. When in doubt, a person should go to the emergency room.

Learn more about the differences between panic attacks and heart attacks here.

Breastfeeding

mother breastfeeding her babyShare on PinterestBreastfeeding may cause burning pain in the breasts and chest.

Breastfeeding can cause a range of new and unfamiliar sensations in the chest as the breasts expand, contract, and adjust to feeding an infant.

Some women experience sharp, deep, shooting, or burning pains as part of their milk letdown. Others develop an infection called mastitis, which can cause a burning feeling in the skin and breast tissue.

Some people have a brief spasm in the blood vessels of their nipples after breastfeeding. The pain can be sharp, burning, and intensely painful, but it usually only lasts a few minutes.

Breastfeeding could be the cause of burning chest pain if:

  • a woman currently breastfeeds, has recently given birth, or has recently stopped breastfeeding
  • the pain is primarily on one or both sides of the chest, not in the middle of the chest
  • other changes to the breasts — such as pain in the nipples, an increase in breast size, or skin changes — occur alongside the pain

Heart disease

Although many types of chest pain, including some burning pain, can indicate a problem with the heart, they do not always mean that a person is having a heart attack.

Angina is a term that doctors use to refer to chest pain when the heart does not get enough oxygen. The most common cause of angina is coronary heart disease, which is a condition that blocks blood flow when plaque builds up in the blood vessels.

A doctor may treat angina as a warning sign that a person is at risk of having a heart attack.

It can be difficult to distinguish the pain of angina from that of a heart attack. Even doctors cannot usually tell the difference based on symptoms alone.

For this reason, a person should go to the emergency room for any angina that does not go away or that gets worse over time. A person who has previously had angina but whose angina pattern changes (unstable angina) should also seek emergency care.

Some symptoms of angina include:

  • pain, pressure, or burning in the chest
  • nausea
  • pain that comes and goes
  • feeling winded or breathless
  • pain that radiates to the jaw or shoulder

Other vascular health problems

Problems with the blood vessels that carry blood to and away from the heart and lungs may cause chest pain.

For example, an aortic dissection occurs when the aorta, which is a large blood vessel, tears. Without prompt treatment, it can be fatal.

A pulmonary embolism is another blood vessel issue. It occurs when a blood clot breaks loose and travels to the lungs. This can damage the lungs and heart, and it may also be fatal.

Some signs of a blood vessel problem include:

  • a sudden ripping, tearing, burning pain in the chest, which may indicate an aortic dissection
  • chest pressure or burning that gets worse with exercise
  • sudden pain accompanied by difficulty breathing or dizziness

People should always seek emergency medical attention for these symptoms.

Lung health issues

Problems with the lungs can also cause burning in the chest.

For example, lung infections and pneumonia can cause burning pain in the chest or lungs, especially when breathing or during movement or exercise.

People who experience burning pain that makes breathing difficult should see a doctor, as it can be difficult to tell these symptoms from those of a heart attack.

Doctors can also help diagnose and treat other lung health issues, such as pneumonia.

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