What Side Is Your Heart On?

What Side Is Your Heart On?
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If you experience any kind of chest pain, you may immediately ask yourself what side is your heart on. Because chest pains associated with a heart attack usually affect the left side of the chest, many people assume that the heart is on that side of the body. However, cardiac-related chest pain can be felt anywhere in the chest. Also, not all pains in your chest are related to a heart condition. So, knowing what side your heart is on can help to know if pains in your chest are something to worry about or not.

What Side is Your Heart On?

You may be surprised, however, to learn which side your heart is on because it is on neither the left side or the right side of your chest. Your heart is actually located in the center of your chest, slightly to the left-hand side. So why do many people assume that their heart is on the left side of the chest?

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According to Dr. Matthew Hoffman on WebMD, your heart is found right behind your breastbone (sternum).1 Your heart is about the size of a clenched fist and about 2/3 of your heart is found on the left side of the body and 1/3 is on the right side. The base of the heart has an apex which points to the left side.

Each side of the heart has 2 chambers called the atrium and the ventricle. Dr. Hoffman says that the left side of the heart is the strongest and it’s this side that pumps oxygen-rich blood to the body. Your heart is protected inside a protective sac called the pericardium which protects the heart from friction as it contracts.

So, although your heart is in the center of your chest, a large part of it and the part that does the most work is on the left side.

Heart-Related Chest Pains

Even though heart-related chest pains generally occur on the left side of your chest, you should never ignore any type of pain or discomfort in the chest. Chest pains can be a sign of heart disease caused by narrowed or blocked arteries. This causes ischemia which is a reduction in blood supply to the heart and other tissues.

While chest pains can be caused by conditions not connected with the heart, there is a range of symptoms that can indicate cardiac problems.

Symptoms of a heart attack

Knowing the side your heart is on can help in identifying symptoms of heart failure and cardiac arrest.

According to the American Heart Association, a heart attack happens when there is not enough oxygen-rich blood getting to the heart. Some believe this is commonly caused by a buildup of fat, cholesterol and other substances that narrow and block the arteries, although there are opposing views on that subject. The result is ischemia which causes a heart attack or myocardial infarction.2

The American Heart Association says that there are some common symptoms of a heart attack:3

Chest discomfort. You may feel mild to severe chest pains in the center of your chest. Some people feel that there is pressure in their chest that squeezes and causes pain. The cardiac pain can last a few minutes or it can come and go.

Upper body discomfort. You may also feel cardiac pain on either side of the upper chest and in the left or right arm. The pain behind your ribs can spread to your back, neck, jaw, or stomach.

Shortness of breath. You could experience shortness of breath even if you are not doing any physical activity. Shortness of breath during a heart attack can be with or without chest discomfort.

Other symptoms. Some other symptoms of heart failure or cardiac arrest are breaking out in cold sweats, feeling lightheaded, or being nauseous.

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It’s important to get emergency medical care as quickly as possible if you or a loved one experiences signs of a heart attack.

Symptoms of Angina

Angina is a symptom of heart disease that can cause mild to severe chest pains similar to a heart attack. Narrowed or blocked arteries mean that less oxygen reaches the heart. This results in shortness of breath, chest pain, discomfort in the upper body, pain on either arm.

Although the symptoms of angina can go away quickly, according to Dr. Laura J. Martin on WebMD, angina can turn into a heart attack. Dr. Martin says that there are 2 common types of angina:4

  • Stable angina. Physical activity and stress can cause symptoms to appear for a few minutes. This can be managed with lifestyle changes and medication.
  • Unstable angina. Often happens while you are resting. The pain is strong and last longer than a few minutes. This can turn into a heart attack.

Cardiac or Non-Cardiac Chest Pain

Information about what side your heart is on is important in understanding more about heart-related chest pain. However, not all chest pain is the result of heart disease or cardiac problems. Some non-cardiac chest pain is caused by panic attacks, pulled muscle in the chest, injury to the rib cage, or digestive problems.

The Harvard Heart Letter stated some of the differences between cardiac and non-cardiac chest pain.5

Cardiac chest pain

Chest pain in your upper body that is indicative of cardiac problems will have some of the following symptoms:

  • Discomfort that feels that your chest is being squeezed.
  • Pain and a burning feeling in your chest.
  • Pain in either side of your upper chest that affects one of both of your shoulder or arms.
  • Cold sweats, sudden nausea, and difficulty breathing along with the pain.
  • The pain occurs during or after physical activity. You may feel pain when resting.

Chest pain that isn’t heart-related

Symptoms of chest pain that are less likely to be connected with cardiac problems are as follows:

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  • A sharp pain when coughing, sneezing or breathing.
  • A sudden sharp pain that lasts a few seconds.
  • The pain is in one small spot.
  • You have chest pain for many hours or days without other symptoms.
  • You can reproduce the pain by pressing on your chest.

According to the Mayo Clinic, a burning painful feeling in your chest could be a result of a serious heart condition or caused by heartburn.6

Chest Pain Unrelated to your Heart

What side your heart is on doesn’t have a role to play in medical conditions that aren’t cardiac-related. Here are some of the most common reasons for chest pain that aren’t connected with your heart.

Panic disorder or anxiety attacks

Many people who experience panic attacks feel as if they are having a heart attack because of the chest pain. There are a number of factors that combine to cause the chest pain during a panic attack.

Researchers from the Association of Medicine and Psychiatry found that a panic disorder is related to both cardiac and non-cardiac health issues. For example, hyperventilation can put extra strain on the heart’s muscles and cause ischemia. The rapid breathing can also cause pain in the ribcage (non-cardiac pain) and spasms in the heart muscles (cardiac pain).7

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Dr. Jeff Huffman, one of the researchers from the Association of Medicine and Psychiatry, says that a panic disorder is treatable. Panic attacks and anxiety attacks are one of the symptoms of stress in the body. To find out ways to deal with stress better, please read my article on the best natural home remedies for stress and anxiety. Stress can also cause digestive problems, which is another cause of non-cardiac chest pain.

Acid reflux / GERD

Digestive conditions like heartburn and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) can cause chest pains that aren’t heart-related. GERD and heartburn cause acid reflux. Acid reflux describes the condition when the muscles at the top of the stomach don’t close properly and allow stomach acid to go back up the esophagus.

Dr. Jennifer Robinson on WebMD, says that the acid irritates the delicate lining of the esophagus. This results in a burning feeling after eating and can cause sharp, knifelike pains in the chest. Many people mistake this for heart-related pain.8 In fact, the journal Metabolism said that digestive disorders are one of the main causes for people to visit their doctor with chest pains that aren’t cardiac pains.9

Heartburn and GERD can also cause you to feel that you have something stuck in your throat and experience stomach discomfort after eating. For information on how to get rid of heartburn naturally, please read this article.

Costochondritis

Arthritis, a bacterial infection or a viral infection in the ribs can cause costochondritis. This is an inflammatory disorder that can cause pains in your chest that aren’t cardiac pains. It is also one of the reasons for breastbone pain.

According to Dr. William Shiel Jr. on eMedicineHealth.com, costochondritis can be due to minor trauma to the chest, a viral respiratory infection that causes severe coughing, or bacterial infection after surgery. Other chronic conditions that cause costochondritis are psoriatic arthritis, spondylitis, or ankylosing.10

Other Causes of Non-Cardiac Chest Pain

You may experience pain in the chest under the ribs for any of the following reasons:

Read my other related articles:

Read my other related articles:
1. The Best Foods and Herbs for Healthy Heart
2. 10 Habits That Harm Your Heart That You Probably Didn’t Know About
3. 80% of Heart Attacks Could Be Avoided by Doing These 5 Easy Things
4. How Blood Donation Reduces Heart Attack

Article Sources:

  1. WebMD. Picture of the heart.
  2. Heart. About heart attacks.
  3. Heart. Warning signs of a heart attack.
  4. WebMD. Angina
  5. HealthHarvard. Is your chest pain a heart attack?
  6. MayoClinic. Chest pain.
  7. Prim Care Companion J Clin Psychiatry. 2002; 4(2): 54–62.
  8. WebMD. Understanding GERD.
  9. Metabolism. 2010 Oct;59 Suppl 1:S41-6
  10. eMedicineHealth. Costochondritis.
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