Chest Burning Sensation

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Introduction

What is chest burning sensation?

A burning feeling in the chest is a common symptom of heart conditions, lung problems, gastrointestinal disorders, and even panic attacks. Chest burning can result from heart pain due to spasm or lack of blood flow, pain in the esophagus due to heartburn or lung pain due to inflammation, or infection and musculoskeletal pain in the chest area.

Heart conditions, such as angina, pericarditis, or heart attack, are common causes of a burning sensation in the chest. Other causes include pulmonary embolism (blockage in a blood vessel in the lungs) that reduces blood flow to the lungs and leads to chest burning and pain. Pleurisy (inflammation of the lining around the lungs) may also cause a burning sensation in the chest.

Heartburn can lead to chest burning sensation, especially in severe cases, such as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). Less often, chest burning is a symptom of asthma or anxiety attacks. It is also possible to experience chest burning as a result of rib fractures or any other trauma experienced in the chest area.

Chest burning sensation can be a sign of a serious condition. Seek immediate medical care (call 911) if you experience a chest burning sensation along with shortness of breath, rapid heart rate, loss of consciousness, or severe trauma to chest. Seek prompt medical care if your chest burning sensation is persistent or causes you concern.

Symptoms

What other symptoms might occur with chest burning sensation?

Chest burning sensation may accompany other symptoms, which vary depending on the underlying disease, disorder or condition. Conditions that lead to a chest burning sensation may also cause symptoms in other areas or systems of the body.

Cardiovascular symptoms that may occur along with chest burning sensation

Chest burning sensation may accompany other symptoms affecting the cardiovascular system including:

  • Chest pain or pressure that radiates to the shoulder and arm
  • Irregular heart rate (arrhythmia)
  • Rapid breathing (tachypnea) or shortness of breath
  • Rapid heart rate (tachycardia)

Other symptoms that may occur along with chest burning sensation

Chest burning sensation may accompany symptoms related to other body systems including:

  • Decreased sensation (numbness)
  • Heartburn
  • Indigestion
  • Pain when coughing or breathing
  • Profuse sweating
  • Shortness of breath
  • Skin lesions or blisters

Serious symptoms that might indicate a life-threatening condition

In some cases, chest burning sensation may be a symptom of a life-threatening condition that should be immediately evaluated in an emergency setting. Seek immediate medical care (call 911) if you, or someone you are with, have any of these life-threatening symptoms including:

  • Chest trauma
  • Cold, clammy skin
  • Confusion or loss of consciousness for even a brief moment
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Rapid breathing (tachypnea)
  • Rapid heart rate (tachycardia)
Causes

What causes chest burning sensation?

Chest burning sensation may be caused by cardiac and pulmonary circulation disorders that reduce or block blood flow through the arteries that supply oxygen to heart and lungs. Gastrointestinal disorders are also common causes of chest burning sensation. Such disorders may be caused by gastric acid from the stomach and, sometimes, bile contents entering the esophagus, resulting in heartburn and indigestion.

Chest burning sensation can be the result of trauma or injury to the musculoskeletal structures of the chest area. Further causes are related to nerve involvement, whereby a nerve is damaged, diseased or injured. Less severe but common, a burning sensation in the chest can be caused by sunburn or chemical burns.

Gastrointestinal causes of chest burning sensation

Chest burning sensation can be caused by gastrointestinal disorders. Examples include:

  • Bloating from gas

  • Esophagitis (inflammation of the esophagus)

  • Gastric reflux or heartburn

  • Ulcers

Other causes of chest burning sensation

Chest burning sensation may be caused by other conditions including:

Serious or life-threatening causes of chest burning sensation

In some cases, chest burning sensation may be a symptom of a heart or lung disorder or injury to the chest. These conditions may be serious or life threatening and should be immediately evaluated in an emergency setting. These conditions include:

  • Angina (chest pain resulting from lack of blood flow to the heart)

  • Asthma

  • Chest trauma

  • Dissecting thoracic aortic aneurysm (life-threatening tear in a bulging or weakened wall of the body’s main artery that can cause severe hemorrhage)

  • Myocardial infarction (heart attack)

  • Stroke

Questions for diagnosing the cause of chest burning sensation

To diagnose your condition, your doctor or licensed health care practitioner will ask you several questions related to your chest burning sensation including:

  • How long have you felt a chest burning sensation?

  • When do you feel a chest burning sensation?

  • Do you have any other symptoms?

  • Does anything relieve or worsen the burning sensation?

  • What medications are you taking?

What are the potential complications of chest burning sensation?

Because chest burning sensation can be caused by serious diseases, failure to seek treatment can result in serious complications and permanent damage. Once the underlying cause is diagnosed, it is important for you to follow the treatment plan that you and your health care professional design specifically for you to reduce the risk of potential complications including:

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2018 Nov 4
  1. Angina pectoris/stable angina. American Heart Association. http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/Conditions/HeartAttack/SymptomsDiagnosisofHeartAttack/Angina-Pectoris-...
  2. What is Pericarditis? American Heart Association.http://www.heart.org/en/health-topics/pericarditis/what-is-pericarditis
  3. Acid Reflux in Adults. NIH National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/digestive-diseases/acid-reflux-ger-gerd-adults

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