Chest Pressure

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What is chest pressure?

Chest pressure is the sensation of a squeezing, tightening, crushing or pressing in the chest area, with or without pain. It is sometimes described as a feeling of a band tightening around your chest or of something heavy sitting on your chest. A pressure sensation can come from a condition occurring in any part of your chest, including your chest wall muscles, esophagus, heart, lungs, nerves, ribcage, or tendons. If you have pain with the pressure, it may radiate between your chest and your neck, abdomen or back.

Chest pressure can be a symptom of disorders such as heartburn or gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). Chest pressure accompanied by pain that changes with breathing or that radiates to your back may be pleuritic pain (usually caused by dryness or inflammation in the sac that surrounds the lungs) or muscle inflammation. Other causes of chest pressure include anxiety and more serious conditions such as anaphylaxis (a life-threatening allergic reaction) or heart conditions ranging from rapid heart rate (tachycardia), to heart attack (myocardial infarction) and irregular heart rhythm (arrhythmia).

Depending upon the cause, chest pressure can be accompanied by other symptoms, including fast heart rate, sweating, abdominal pain, or difficulty breathing. Unexplained pressure in the chest should always be investigated by a health care practitioner.

Seek immediate medical care (call 911) if you, or someone you are with, experience chest pressure or pain; confusion or loss of consciousness, even for a brief moment; pounding or rapid heart rate (tachycardia); shortness of breath or difficulty breathing or swallowing; or sudden swelling of the throat, face or lips. Seek prompt medical care if you experience chest pain that gets worse with breathing or a change in position or a regurgitation of stomach contents up into the esophagus, throat or mouth.

What other symptoms might occur with chest pressure?

Chest pressure may accompany other symptoms, which vary depending on the underlying disease, disorder or condition. Symptoms that frequently affect the chest may involve any of several body systems.

Cardiovascular symptoms that may occur along with chest pressure

Chest pressure may accompany symptoms related to the cardiovascular system including:

  • Chest pain that may radiate to the jaw or down the arm
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness
  • Fainting or change in level of consciousness or lethargy
  • Irregular heart rate (arrhythmia)
  • Rapid heart rate (tachycardia)

Respiratory symptoms that may occur along with chest pressure

  • Chest pressure may accompany symptoms related to the respiratory system including:
  • Chest pain that gets worse with breathing or a change in position
  • Cough or wheezing (whistling sound made with breathing)
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Shortness of breath
  • Sudden runny nose (nasal congestion)

Gastrointestinal symptoms that may occur along with chest pressure

  • Chest pressure may accompany symptoms related to the gastrointestinal system including:
  • Abdominal pain
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Heartburn
  • Nausea with or without vomiting
  • Regurgitation of stomach contents up into the esophagus, throat or mouth
  • Sudden diarrhea

Other symptoms that may occur along with chest pressure

Chest pressure may accompany other symptoms including:

  • Anxiety
  • Hives or a sudden itchy feeling
  • Slurred speech
  • Sudden skin redness, warmth or swelling
  • Sweating, especially profuse sweating

Serious symptoms that might indicate a life-threatening condition

In some cases, chest pressure 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 pain or tightness
  • Confusion or loss of consciousness, even for a brief moment
  • Difficulty breathing or swallowing
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness
  • Hives or sudden itchy feeling
  • Rapid heart rate (tachycardia)
  • Sudden swelling of the face, throat or lips
  • Sweating, especially profuse sweating

What causes chest pressure?

Chest pressure can be a symptom of a disorder such as heartburn or gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). Chest pressure accompanied by pain that changes with breathing or that radiates to your back may be pleuritic pain (usually caused by dryness or inflammation in the sac that surrounds the lungs) or muscle inflammation. Other causes of chest pressure include an anxiety or panic attack, or more serious conditions such as anaphylaxis (a life-threatening allergic reaction) or heart conditions.

Cardiovascular causes of chest pressure

Chest pressure may be caused by heart problems including:

  • Angina (chest pain or pressure due to decreased blood supply to the heart)
  • Arrhythmia (irregular heartbeat)
  • Myocardial infarction (heart attack)

Other causes of chest pressure

Chest pressure can also be caused by certain digestive, inflammatory or pulmonary disorders, or by allergic or stress-related reactions including:

Serious or life-threatening causes of chest pressure

In some cases, chest pressure may be a symptom of a serious or life-threatening condition that should be immediately evaluated in an emergency setting. These conditions include:

Questions for diagnosing the cause of chest pressure

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

  • How long have you felt chest pressure? When did you first notice it?
  • Do you have pain or a pounding heartbeat with your chest pressure?
  • Have you experienced confusion with your chest pressure? Anxiety? Slurred speech?
  • Do you have trouble breathing or swallowing?
  • Does your pain change or increase either when you breathe or when you change position?
  • Do you ever regurgitate your stomach contents up into your esophagus or throat?
  • Do you have any other symptoms?

What are the potential complications of chest pressure?

Because chest pressure can be due to 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: 2020 Dec 2
THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.
  1. Chest pain. MedlinePlus, a service of the National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health. http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/003079.htm
  2. Heart attack. PubMed Health, a service of the NLM from the NIH. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMH0001246/