Causes of Right Side Chest Pain and When You Must See a Doctor

Causes of Right Side Chest Pain
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Pain in the right side of your chest should never be ignored because it could be a sign of a serious health condition. Thankfully, pains in the right side of the chest aren’t usually connected with heart problems, although in rare instances right-side chest pain occurs during a heart attack.

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Some common causes of right side chest pain are lung infections, gallbladder disease, pancreatitis, rib fracture, or shingles. These conditions can cause pain ranging from a mild dull pain to sharp stabbing pains that cause chest discomfort. If any type of chest pain persists, it’s important to see your doctor for a checkup.

The right-hand side of your abdominal and chest area contains many vital organs. For example, your gallbladder, pancreas, and liver are on your right side protected by the ribcage in your chest. Any inflammation or infection in these organs can cause pains in your chest, upper abdomen, and back. Because your heart is located in the center of your chest towards the left-hand side, generally cardiac heart disease symptoms don’t affect the right side of your chest.

In this article, I will look at the various causes of chest pain that are felt on the right side of the chest. You will also find out when the chest pain is serious enough to call a doctor.

Causes of Pain in the Right Side of the Chest

Chest pains caused by gallbladder infection

Sharp pains in the right side of your chest could be a sign of a gallbladder infection or gallstones. Your gallbladder contains bile which is needed to break down food and help with digestion. Any infection or blockage in the gallbladder can cause pain in your upper abdomen area.

Doctors from the National Health Service in the United Kingdom say that acute cholecystitis (gallbladder inflammation) can cause sudden stabbing pains in the right side of your chest. These pains could also radiate to your right shoulder.1

The health of your gallbladder and liver are closely connected. In my article about the 6 best herbs for cleansing your liver, you will find out how to use burdock, dandelion, wild yam, and yellow dock for liver detox. You will also get a recipe for a liver cleansing tonic.

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Doctors from WebMD say that the symptoms of gallstones can cause chest pain similar to a heart attack. Because of this, you should call a doctor immediately if you have sudden pains in your chest.2

Pancreatitis

Pancreatitis is inflammation in your pancreas which can cause steady drilling pains that can be felt in your chest’s right side. Your pancreas is located in your upper abdomen behind your stomach. Your pancreas excretes digestive enzymes which are necessary to help keep your digestion working efficiently. If your pancreas stops working properly, a buildup of enzymes can cause the pancreas to become swollen and inflamed. Gallstones can also cause pancreatitis.

According to Drugs.com, pancreatic pain usually starts just under your ribs in the middle of your body and radiates to your chest, back or side. However, the chest pains from pancreatitis can also occur in the left or right side of your chest.3 Along with the chest pains, you may experience nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite, and bloating.

You should call your doctor if your intense pains last longer than 30 minutes and you also have vomiting or severe nausea.

Pleurisy

Between your lungs and chest wall is a thin membrane called the pleura. The pleura can become inflamed because of a viral or bacterial infection, a blood clot, or chest injury. Any inflammation of the pleura (called pleurisy) will cause sharp stabbing chest pains. The pain can be very severe and can be made worse by coughing.

Dr. Tim Kenny on Patient.info explains that the chest pains are felt in the area of the inflammation. So, if your right lung is affected, pleurisy will cause pains in the right side of your chest.4

You should see a doctor if your chest pains develop over several days or if the pain doesn’t ease after a few days. If the pains in your chest cause you to be breathlessness, or you cough up blood, you should also seek medical advice.

Pneumonia

Pneumonia is a lung infection that can trigger pain in the right side of your chest depending on which lung is affected. Pneumonia is a respiratory infection that often is a result of the flu, asthma, or lung infection. As well as chest pain, pneumonia can also cause symptoms like a severe cough, fever, and shaking chills.

According to the American Lung Association, along with the usual symptoms of pneumonia, you could also feel sharp chest pains that get worse when you cough.5

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If you have had a stroke, you may be at a greater risk of having pain on the right side of the chest due to pneumonia. The journal Neurohospilalist reported that stroke-related pneumonia often occurs on the right side of the chest rather than the left side. This is because the right respiratory tract is closer to the windpipe.6

Pneumonia can be a potentially life-threatening illness that requires proper medical supervision. Those most at risk are the young, elderly, and people with weakened immune system.

Collapsed lung (pneumothorax)

You will have sharp chest pains on the right side of your chest if your right lung collapses. Pneumothorax (the medical name for a collapsed lung) can be caused by injury to your chest, asthma, cystic fibrosis, or tuberculosis.

According to the National Library of Medicine, a severe stabbing chest pain that is made worse by coughing is the main symptom of a collapsed lung. If the collapse is severe, you may also have tightness in your chest, blue skin, dizziness, fatigue, and a rapid heart rate.7

A collapsed lung can become a life-threatening condition which requires prompt medical attention. Your doctor can perform an examination to see if the lung has collapsed and how serious it is.

Shingles

Another cause of chest pains on the right side or left side is shingles. Shingles are caused by the virus that is responsible for chickenpox. The main symptom of shingles is a rash on your body that blisters. This may be accompanied by itching and tingling as well as headaches, flu-like symptoms, and sensitivity to light. Shingles can also cause you to have very sensitive skin.

Dr. Michelle Wright on Patient.info says that shingles also attacks the nerves under the skin. Usually, only one side of the body is affected. However, if a nerve connected with the skin on the chest is affected, shingles can also cause chest pain.8 Doctors from the Mayo Clinic say that the shingles rash can wrap around the left or right side of your upper body.9

Home remedies to relieve the symptoms of shingles involve treatments to relieve the itchy skin and soothe the pain. One very effective way to soothe the painful symptoms of shingles is to treat shingles with Manuka and clover honey.

Costochondritis

Costochondritis, or inflammation in your breastbone (sternum), can cause chest pains in the left or right side of your chest. Many people mistake costochondritis for a heart attack because the pain is often felt where your heart is. However, according to eMedicineHealth, the pain is usually localized and can be reproduced by pushing on the cartilage.10

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Although costochondritis usually causes chest pain that affects your left side, you may also have a right side chest pain. Doctors say that the pain can affect both sides of the chest at the same time. If you have swelling in the breastbone along with pain, it could be a sign of Tietze syndrome. A rare condition similar to costochondritis.11

Usually, the chest pains will resolve themselves without any treatment. Doctors advise to take plenty rest and apply ice or heat packs to relieve the pain.

Blood clot (pulmonary embolism)

Severe pains in your chest that don’t go away when resting could be a sign of pulmonary embolism. Pulmonary embolism is a life-threatening condition caused by a blood clot that travels to your lungs. A common reason for blood clots developing is deep vein thrombosis.

Dr. Daniel R Ouellette on Medscape explains that blood travels to the lungs into the right side of the heart then out through the left side into the lungs. If a blood clot enters your left or right side lung, you will have chest pain on that side.12

Doctors from the Mayo Clinic explain that over time, pulmonary embolism can increase blood pressure on the right side of your heart and eventually weaken your heart.13

The best way to prevent pulmonary embolism is to avoid developing blood clots. Please read my article on the signs and symptoms of deep vein thrombosis to find out more. If you have signs of poor blood circulation, you will find helpful information in my article on the many ways that you can improve your blood circulation naturally.

Trauma to the chest

A blow to the chest will cause chest pain and could damage organs that are protected by the rib cage. For example, trauma to the right side of the chest can result in injury to the liver or right kidney. Even minor injuries to the chest can cause pain that lasts for some days after the injury. This can cause chest pains when you breathe, cough, or sneeze.

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According to doctors on WebMD, it is important to visit a doctor if you have any kind of chest injury that causes pain. This is to rule out the possibility that the pain in your chest is heart-related.14

A rib fracture can also cause severe, sharp chest pains. These pains will usually be aggravated by coughing or sneezing. The affected ribs and surrounding areas will be sore to touch.

Muscle strain

Overreaching, straining, or physical exertion can damage muscles in your chest or the muscles connecting your ribs (called intercostal muscles) and cause pains on either side of your chest. However, muscle strain often causes chest pain on the right side of the chest because many people use their right hand to carry out physical work.

Dr. Michelle Wright on Patient.info says that muscle strain can tear the muscle fibers in the chest wall. Heavy lifting, stretching, sudden movements, and even frequent coughing can put extra strain on the muscles in your chest.8

Heart attack

As I mentioned at the start of this article, chest pain on the left side is usually associated with heart-related problems, like a heart attack. However, sometimes the symptoms of a heart attack can also cause pain on the right side of the chest.

Dr. James Beckerman on WebMD says that the chest pains women tend to feel during a heart attack are more like a squeezing feeling in the chest. Dr. Beckerman says that the pain can be felt anywhere in the chest, not just the left side.15

Other signs of a heart attack that you should not ignore include cold sweats, spreading pain, shortness of breath, an irregular heartbeat, and nausea and vomiting.

If you think that your severe pains in your chest are because of a heart attack, you should call the emergency services immediately.

When to See a Doctor About Chest Pain

When talking about chest pain, all doctors say that any kind of chest pain should never be ignored. Although the causes aren’t always linked to your heart, they can be symptoms of other serious medical conditions.

Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School, Dr. Julian M Aroesty says that it’s important to get medical treatment as quickly as possible in case the chest pain is caused by a heart attack.16

You should also call your doctor if you have chest pain in your left or right side of your chest and if it’s accompanied by one or more of the following symptoms:

  • Extreme pain under your breastbone that feels like someone is squeezing your chest.
  • Any tightness or pressure in the middle of your chest.
  • Pain in your chest that radiates to your back, left arm, or jaw.
  • Chest pains that don’t go away.
  • Sudden stabbing chest pains.
  • Vomiting, nausea, lightheadedness, irregular or rapid heartbeat.
  • Fever and chills.
  • Coughing up green-yellow mucus.
  • Difficulty swallowing.

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Article Sources:

  1. NHS. Chest pain.
  2. WebMD. Gallstones.
  3. Drugs. Acute pancreatitis.
  4. PatientInfo. Pleurisy.
  5. Lung. Pneumonia symptoms, causes, and risk factors.
  6. Neurohospitalist. 2011 Apr; 1(2): 85–93.
  7. MedlinePlus. Collapsed lung.
  8. PatientInfo. Chest pain.
  9. MayoClinic. Shingles.
  10. eMedicineHealth. Costochondritis.
  11. SouthernCross. Costochondritis.
  12. MedScape. Pulmonary embolism.
  13. MayoClinic. Pulmonary embolism.
  14. WebMD. Types of chest
  15. WebMD. Women’s heart attack symptoms.
  16. UpToDate. Chest pain (beyond the basics).
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