Left or Right Side Chest Pain: 27 Causes You Should Never Ignore

Left or Right Side Chest Pain: 27 Causes You Should Never Ignore

You should never ignore any kind of chest pain, especially if it’s on the left side of your chest. Thankfully, many causes of chest pain are nothing to worry about and can be easily treated with natural remedies. However, squeezing or pressing pain in your chest, or chest pain that comes on suddenly could be a sign of serious heart problems. Some reasons for chest discomfort that may appear to be heart-related could actually be related to your lungs, stress levels, digestive system, or a result of an infection.

Because chest pain can result from many health conditions – serious ones and less serious ones, it’s important to know the symptoms. For example, although chest pain connected with your heart usually occurs on the left side of your chest, cardiac-related pain can be felt in the right chest. Some types of chest pain also spread or radiate to other parts of your body.

In this article, I will look at the symptoms and causes of chest pain in general, and what signs you need to look for if you have random aches and pain in your right or left chest area.

General Symptoms of Chest Pain

Chest pain is often associated with other symptoms that can help identify the cause.

Usually, pain that is heart-related spreads to your arm, jaw or face. This could be accompanied by shortness of breath, dizziness, or pain just below your ribcage. However, some anxiety-related issues and serious lung conditions can also cause similar symptoms along with rapid heartbeat and possible tingling in your hands and legs. In addition, sometimes your chest pain can also come with a feeling of tightness in chest.

Many health issues that are related to your gastrointestinal system can cause chest pain along with gnawing aches in your stomach and pain that spreads to you back. Some digestive problems can cause a burning feeling in your chest along with a feeling like you have something stuck in your throat.

Chest Pain That Comes and Goes

Both cardiac and non-cardiac chest pain can feel like pain in chest that is constant, or pain that comes and goes. the later is called intermittent chest pain in which you feel on and off chest pain. Chest pain that comes in waves can be dull and mild and last for hours, days or even weeks, or it can be sharp and stabbing pain that lasts for a short period of time.

A common heart related condition that causes chest pain that comes and goes is angina (which will be discussed later on). However there are other non-cardiac conditions that can cause pain in the heart area that comes and goes, such as digestive or respiratory conditions or even pulled muscle in chest.

This is why chest pain that is not constant but rather comes and goes and feels like waves should not be ignored because there is always a risk that left side chest pain is heart-related.

Right Side Chest Pain vs. Left Side Chest Pain

Having any kind of chest pain can be a stressful experience especially if it’s on the left side of your chest where your heart is located. Most people are less concerned with chest pain on the right side as it’s not associated with heart attack. But there is always a worry that left side chest pain is heart-related because your heart is located on that side. It’s important to be aware of the location of your chest pain like right side, left side chest pain or middle chest pain, as this can literally save your life.

While a chest pain on the left side can be caused by serious medical conditions related to your heart, this is not always the case. There can be other reasons for non-heart related chest pain on the left side. Right side chest pain is usually not related to heart problems, however in some rare instances right-side chest pain occurs during a heart attack.

Doctors from the Mayo Clinic say that heart related chest pain will result in tightness or pressure in your chest that feels as if there is a crushing weight there. The heart-related chest pain usually radiates to your arm, jaw, neck, and back. You may also experience shortness of breath, cold sweats, and weakness.

There are also non-heart related reasons for chest pain in the left side and some of these causes are due to infections, stress, injury, or nerve damage. Usually, non-cardiac chest pain gets worse when you breathe or cough.

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 pain that cause chest discomfort. If any type of chest pain persists, it’s important to see your doctor for a checkup.

Serious Causes of Chest Pain

First, let’s look at the more serious causes of chest pain, starting with the cause that most people worry about – severe chest pains that are associated with a heart attack. These types of chest pain require an immediate medical attention.

1. Heart attack

Sharp, squeezing chest pain or tightness is a common symptom of a heart attack. Chest pain that occurs before an impending heart attack may last for a few minutes or it may come and go over a few days. Often, this pain is accompanied by nausea, shortness of breath, sweating, and pain in the left arm or jaw.

Heart attack chest pain happens when a blockage prevents enough oxygen-rich blood getting to your heart. Because your heart is located on the left side of your chest, the pain usually happens on the left side of your chest.

The American Heart Association reports that chest pains that are associated with a heart attack can feel like uncontrollable pressure in the chest. This pain resembles a squeezing pain that makes you feel as if you have fullness in your chest. Interestingly, the majority of heart attacks start off with mild pain or chest discomfort.1

According to Dr. Melissa Conrad Stöppler on MedicineNet, a heart attack feels like pressure that starts in the center of the chest. This chest discomfort usually spreads to the left chest, left arm and to the jaw. Shortness of breath, nausea and vomiting, and indigestion can also be signs of a heart attack.2

The type of chest pain that women experience before a heart attack can be different than with men. Doctors from the Cleveland Clinic report some women don’t always experience chest pain before a heart attack. The aching feeling could be in one or both arms or the pain may start in the lower back. Also, women usually experience the other heart attack symptoms like shortness of breath, fatigue, and back or jaw pain.3

By making some lifestyle changes, you can dramatically reduce your risk of a heart attack.

2. Angina

Another serious cause of chest pain that is generally felt on around the left rib cage is angina. This chest pain is usually accompanied by nausea, feeling unwell, sweating, tightness in the chest, and pain in the left arm or jaw. Angina can also cause a feeling of heaviness in the chest area in addition to the pain in the chest.

The tightness and discomfort in your chest happen as a result of not enough oxygen-rich blood getting to your heart. The reason for this is usually coronary heart disease caused by narrow or blocked arteries – myocardial ischemia.

Doctors from the Mayo Clinic say that angina causes signs similar to a heart attack. For example, chest pain or discomfort, pain that spreads to the arms, back, shoulder or jaw, and shortness of breath are classic angina symptoms.4

It’s important to have any new angina-type chest pain evaluated by a doctor. Stable angina can be controlled with medication and usually causes pain in your chest when exercising or climbing stairs. Unstable angina can be life-threatening and chest pain comes on suddenly even when resting.

3. Coronary artery disease

A buildup of plaque in your arteries can cause coronary heart disease that causes chest pain and discomfort, shortness of breath, a fast heartbeat, problems sleeping, and possibly nausea.

The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute reports that coronary heart disease can cause a heart attack, angina, or uneven heartbeat. Along with chest pain that can sometimes feel like crushing aches or tightness in your chest, you may have shortness of breath, a fast heartbeat, problems sleeping, poor circulation, and/or nausea.5

To reduce your risk of coronary heart disease, doctors recommend managing a healthy weight, managing stress levels, and having regular physical activity. You should also be aware that some signs of heart disease can be detected in your eyes.

4. Aortic dissection

An aortic dissection is a tear in the wall of the large blood vessel coming off from the heart (the aorta). An aortic dissection is another cardiac-related cause of sharp excruciating chest pain that can have fatal consequences.

Dr. John Hallett, who is a vascular surgeon in the Medical University of South Carolina, says that an aortic dissection happens when the inner and middle layer of the aortic wall separate. This causes excruciating pain in the chest and also sharp pain between the shoulder blades. Complications of an aortic dissection include stroke, a heart attack, or kidney failure.6

One way to reduce your risk of suffering an aortic dissection is to lower your blood pressure. Exercising to strengthen your heart, a healthy diet, and taking apple cider vinegar regularly can all help to keep your blood pressure at healthy levels.

5. Atrial fibrillation

Atrial fibrillation happens when your heart beats at an abnormal rate. This could be too fast, too slow, or an irregular heartbeat. Atrial fibrillation is a heart-related health condition that causes chest pain and discomfort below the ribs.

Doctors from the Mayo Clinic say that it’s difficult to distinguish pain caused by atrial fibrillation from other types of chest pain.  Although atrial fibrillation won’t cause a heart attack, it does put you at greater risk of stroke, heart failure, and blood clots.22

6. Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy

Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy is a thickening of the heart’s muscle wall which causes chest pain as well as shortness of breath, especially during strenuous activities.

According to the British Heart Foundation, hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM) is an inherited disease. The thickening of the heart muscle wall makes the heart work harder and this can cause shortness of breath and chest pains.

A person with HCM may develop abnormal heart rhythms. Depending on the extent of the condition, HCM can cause severe complications that may make exercise or physical activity almost impossible.23

7. Pulmonary hypertension

A cramping chest pain may be a symptom of pulmonary hypertension – a type of high blood pressure that affects the arteries of lungs and the right side of the heart.

In some cases, pulmonary hypertension can cause severe and even fatal consequences. According to Dr. George Schiffman on MedicineNet, some of the other symptoms of pulmonary hypertension are a wheezing cough, neck pain, coughing up blood, and chest pain when inhaling deeply.24

Pulmonary hypertension can’t be cured but doctors can use medication to lessen the symptoms and prevent the disease from progressing.

8. Pulmonary embolism

A pulmonary embolism happens when a blood clot gets to your lung causing severe chest pains on either side of your chest.

When a blood clot gets to your lungs, then consequences can be severe. According to Dr. Daniel Ouellette, who specializes in pulmonary and critical care, pulmonary embolism can cause sudden, acute chest pain which is accompanied by shortness of breath and possibly abdominal pain.7

Doctors from the Mayo Clinic say that some of the underlying causes of pulmonary embolism are deep vein thrombosis (DVT), air bubbles in the blood, or part of a tumor. If left untreated, pulmonary embolism can weaken the heart, increase blood pressure, and even cause death.8

9. Pneumonia

Another potentially serious condition of the lungs that can cause varying degrees of chest pain is pneumonia.

Pneumonia is a serious lung infection that is often a complication of an upper respiratory infection. According to researchers from the American Lung Association, pneumonia can cause stabbing chest pains along with pain just below your ribs. The infection may also cause you to have a dry cough, chills and a fever, muscle aches, and rapid breathing.9

Doctors from the University of Maryland advise that you see a doctor if you cough up blood, have a very high fever, find it difficult to breathe, or are confused.10

To help reduce your risk of developing pneumonia, please check out my articles on the best foods to cleanse your lungs and how to strengthen your lungs to lower your risk of getting lung infections.

10. Collapsed lung

A collapsed lung (medical name: pneumothorax) will cause sharp debilitating pain on one or the other side of your chest.

Doctors from the Mayo Clinic say that the most common reasons for suffering a collapsed lung are chest injury, lung disease, or air that gets into the space surrounding your lungs. This can cause sudden chest pain and shortness of breath. Medical care is important for a collapsed lung because it can become fatal.11

11. Myocarditis

Myocarditis is an inflammation of the heart muscle that causes sharp, stabbing chest pain that may spread to your shoulders.

There are many reasons why myocarditis occurs, but Dr. James Beckerman on WebMD says that viral infections are the most common reasons. Because your heart is affected, myocarditis causes sharp pains where your heart is located. Other related symptoms with this cause of chest pain are signs of an infection, fatigue, and painful or swollen joints.12

Because myocarditis has many causes, you should see a doctor to get the best recommended course of treatment. Your doctor may order blood test for checking the levels of the enzyme creatine phosphokinase (or, CPK) in the blood. If you have myocarditis, it will cause CPK lab tests to show higher than normal results.

12. Pleurisy

If you have chest pain that gets worse when you breathe, cough or sneeze as well as symptoms of an infection, there could be a chance that you have pleurisy.

Pleurisy is a condition where the tissue between your lungs and ribcage becomes inflamed. Doctors from the National Health Service report that sharp chest pains are the most common symptoms of pleurisy. You may find that the pains in your chest are worse when you cough or sneeze.13

Doctors usually take blood tests or arrange for X-rays to find the cause of pleurisy. However, taking short, shallow breaths could help reduce the stabbing chest pains.

13. Lung cancer

Lung cancer is a rare, but serious cause of chest pain that doesn’t go away and is worse when you breathe deeply.

Doctors from the American Cancer Society report that it’s important to detect lung cancer in its early stages. Some of the symptoms of lung cancer include a cough that won’t go away, coughing up blood, chest pain, and repeated chest infections. If you are worried about chest symptoms that don’t go away, you should see your doctor for a checkup.14

To help reduce your risk of lung cancer, you should give up smoking to prevent inhaling toxic chemicals that are linked to cancer. Please read my article on the best ways to give up smoking today.

Low and Medium Risk Causes of Chest Pain

Many causes of chest pain can be easily managed and are not life-threatening. Let’s look at causes of chest pain that are not so serious and can be treated with effective home remedies.

14. Anxiety or panic attack

A panic attack or anxiety disorder can cause squeezing chest pains that may feel like you are having a heart attack.

According to the Association of Medicine and Psychiatry, about 25% of people who visit their doctor because of severe chest pains have panic disorder. In fact, about 70% of panic attacks cause varying degrees of chest pain. Researchers say that stress cause strain and pressure on the chest muscles resulting in spasms and muscle tightness.15

However, sometimes the chest pain associated with panic attacks can be heart-related. This is because blood pressure and heart rate both go up during a panic attack.16

As well as causing mild to severe chest pains, panic attacks can also make you shiver uncontrollably. To help deal with anxiety better, you can try some of my great essential oils to help manage anxiety better.

15. Stress

Stress causes your chest muscles to tighten up resulting in aches and pains in your chest and stomach.

According to research carried out by the University of Gothenburg, stress is often a reason for unexplained chest pain. It was found that people under emotional or psychological stress can suffer from recurring chest pain for years without realizing the cause.17

Another study into the effects of stress on the body found that stress tends to cause more left-sided chest pain than on the right-side of the chest.18

Making your chest ache is only one of the ways that stress negatively affects your body. In fact, some studies say that about 60% of diseases are in some way related to stress. For some helpful tips on managing stress, please check out some of my 14 natural ways to alleviate stress from your life.

16. Strained or pulled chest muscles

Any kind of strain on your chest muscles by overreaching or physical exertion will result in dull to sharp aches in your chest.

According to Dr. Gurvinder Rull on Patient.info, lifting heavy items, sudden movements of the upper torso, or prolonged coughing can cause chest pain. These activities can stretch or tear the muscles in and around your ribcage (intercostal muscles) and usually the pain is worse when breathing in and moving.19

Some of the best home remedies for intercostal muscle strain include applying ice packs, taking ginger as a natural pain-relieving remedy, or using essential oils for muscle pain.

17. Fractured or broken rib

An obvious cause of severe chest pain is an upper-body injury that results in a fractured or broken rib. Other symptoms of broken or fractured rib include pain and tenderness near the injured rib. The chest pain can also become worse after sneezing or coughing as it aggravates the bruised rib.

Unfortunately, a fractured rib can cause pain that lasts many weeks or even months. According to the American Journal of Surgery, it was traditionally thought that rib fractures take about 6 to 8 weeks to heal. However, research into prolonged chest pain and fractured ribs found that chest pain after an injury may take even longer to heal.20

18. Asthma

Asthma is a chronic or acute inflammation of tissue that causes the lungs and airways to swell. If you suffer from asthma, there is a likely chance that you have chest pain from time to time. Other common symptoms include coughing, wheezing, difficulty in breathing, and shortness of breath.

A report published in the Postgraduate Medical Journal found that acute asthma causes chest pain in over 70% of people with asthma. The pains in the chest were described as anything from a dull ache in the ribcage to sharp, stabbing pains in the chest. The pains got worse when an individual coughed or breathed deeply.21

Did you know that there are many herbal treatments for asthma? Ingredients like turmeric, garlic, parsley leaf, and Ginkgo Biloba can help to reduce inflammation and alleviate some of the symptoms of asthma. You could also try some natural essential oils that help to relieve asthma. Also, if you find that your frequently asthma makes your cough frequently, honey can help to relieve a dry cough.

19. Heartburn / GERD

Heartburn or GERD can cause severe, pressing pain in your chest that can be so severe you might mistake it for a heart attack. Heartburn usually causes a burning sensation in your chest and behind the breastbone because stomach acids escape back up your esophagus. Chronic heartburn is referred to as gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD for short.

Doctors from the Mayo Clinic report that it can be difficult to tell heart attack pain and severe heartburn pain apart. One difference is that chest pain caused by heartburn doesn’t radiate to your left arm or shoulder.25

If you suffer from heartburn, you will find helpful home remedies in my article about the best ways to remedy heartburn naturally. There you can read how effective baking soda is for heartburn.

20. Bronchitis

Irritation and inflammation in your lungs can cause bronchitis and chronic coughing that can make your chest muscles sore. Other symptoms of bronchitis include a dry, hacking cough, and expelling white, yellow or green mucus.

According to Dr. Gregory Thompson on WebMD, viral or bacterial infections of your lungs can cause bronchitis. The most common symptom of bronchitis is a dry cough that turns into a deep chesty cough with mucus. The sore cough can last for a few weeks and may even continue after the infection has cleared.26

If you find that the chest pain continues and you can’t shake off your cough, you should visit your doctor to make sure you don’t have pneumonia.

To help get rid of a bronchitis cough quickly, you can try using some of my natural remedies for bronchitis.

21. Shingles and one sided chest pain

Chest pain on one side of your body that is accompanied by a sore rash is most likely a symptom of shingles.

Shingles is a viral infection that is caused by the same virus responsible for chickenpox. Dr. Gurvinder Rull on Patient.info says that shingles can cause chest pain and sensitive skin when it affects the nerves of the skin on the chest.  Usually, a few days after the mild to severe chest pain starts, a rash appears that eventually turns into blisters.19

One of the best ways to treat shingles naturally is to apply Manuka honey regularly to the affected area. The antiviral properties of Manuka honey can help to speed up the healing process.

22. Hiatal hernia

Hiatal hernia happens when part of the stomach protrudes through part of the diaphragm. Complications from a hiatal hernia can cause pressure in your chest that becomes painful and sore.

Dr. John Simic on eMedicineHealth says that a hiatal hernia happens when part of the stomach protrudes through part of the diaphragm. This can cause all the classic symptoms of heartburn-like chest pain because juices from the stomach escape up the esophagus.27

Dr. Simic recommends making lifestyle changes to prevent symptoms of a hiatal hernia. For example, losing weight, exercising more, and trying to improve your posture can help to prevent hiatal hernia-related chest pain.

23. Pancreatitis

Inflammation of your pancreas may cause severe constant sharp pains on your right side below your ribs that spread to your back.

Your pancreas plays an important role in your digestive system and aids digestion. A buildup of enzymes in your pancreas happens because it doesn’t work properly and will cause abdominal pain. According to information published by Harvard Health, pancreatitis causes pain in your lower chest that radiates to your flank or back. You may also experience nausea and vomiting and a loss of appetite.28

24. Gallbladder infection

Sudden stabbing pains in the right-hand side of your chest could be caused by a gallbladder infection or gallstones.

According to Dr. Gregory Thompson on WebMD, health issues with your gallbladder cause sharp chest pains and abdominal cramping. In fact, the pain can feel like the squeezing chest pain associated with a heart attack.29

25. Pericarditis

Severe stabbing pains in the middle of your chest that come on quickly could be caused by pericarditis. Pericarditis is inflammation of the fluid-filled sac around your heart.

Although pericarditis is a cause of cardiac chest pain, doctors from the National Health Service say that it doesn’t usually cause serious complications. Sometimes the chest pain can be excruciatingly sore and other times pericarditis can cause a dull ache in the chest that gradually gets worse. You may find that the chest pain is worse when you lie down.30

The American Heart Association says that usually plenty of rest is sometimes enough to treat pericarditis. You can also take some remedies for pain and inflammation.31

26. Peptic ulcers

Apart from causing lower stomach pain after eating, peptic ulcers can also be a reason for aching pains in the middle of your chest behind the breastbone.

According to researchers from the University of Maryland, chest pain from ulcers can be difficult to differentiate from heart pain or heartburn pain.32

One of the causes of peptic ulcers is the long-term use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). Please check out my article on some of the best natural painkillers that have no side effects.

27. Costochondritis

Costochondritis is the medical name for inflammation of your breastbone (sternum) which causes general pain on front middle-part of your chest.

Dr. William Shiel on eMedicineHealth says that costochondritis causes pain in the front of the chest and in fourth, fifth, and sixth ribs. The chest pain can spread to the back and upper abdomen. Very often injury, exercising, or anxiety can aggravate sternum inflammation and make the chest more painful.33

You can tell the difference between chest pain from costochondritis and cardiac-related pains because pressing on the breastbone will usually increase the soreness.

Usually, costochondritis resolves itself on its own.

When to See a Doctor about Random Chest Pain

Dr. Jennifer Robinson on WebMD says that chest pain is one type of pain that you should never ignore. Even though many causes of chest pain are relatively harmless, chest pain can also be a sign of life-threatening conditions.

You should call a doctor promptly if you have chest pain in the following conditions:

  • Chest pain that feels like squeezing aches in your chest or that something is crushing your upper chest.
  • Pain on either side of your chest spreads to your arms, back, or jaw.
  • You also have dizziness and shortness of breath.
  • Your heart beats rapidly and you have difficulty catching your breath.
  • You cough up yellow or brown mucus.
  • Any kind of aches and pains in your chest that doesn’t go away.

Read these related articles:

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