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The heart isn't the only organ in the chest, and other medical problems can cause chest discomfort, including these:
- Acid reflux or heartburn. When acid from the stomach flows up into the esophagus, it can cause a burning sensation in the chest that's often mistaken for angina or a heart attack.
- Lung conditions. Pneumonia or blood clots in the vessels supplying the lungs tend to cause shortness of breath and sharp pains that intensify with a deep breath.
- Pericarditis. Inflammation of the tissues around the heart (pericarditis) can cause a sharp pain that often worsens when you lie down.
- Costochondritis. This condition, caused by inflammation in the chest wall between the ribs and the breastbone, can also trigger pain that's often mistaken for a heart attack. The stabbing, aching pain may be caused by trauma or an overuse injury, or it may accompany arthritis.
- Esophageal spasm. This refers to the narrowing and opening of the esophagus, the muscular tube between the mouth and the stomach. Like angina, this pain is also relieved by nitroglycerin. However, only your doctor can conclusively make this diagnosis.
The two most common causes of non-cardiac chest pain (NCCP) are:
- Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD)
There are two main symptoms of GERD. Heartburn (pyrosis) is a burning feeling behind the breast bone. Regurgitation is feeling stomach juices coming back up into the chest and even to the mouth (often with a sour and acid-like taste). Some people with GERD experience NCCD, with or without the classic symptoms of heartburn and/or regurgitation.
- Functional Chest Pain Syndrome
This is the medical diagnostic label developed by gastroenterologists applied to NCCP that is not considered a symptom of GERD, but which is a medically unexplained symptom. Medically unexplained symptoms are symptoms that doctors can't explain, because medical tests fail to show their cause. The term, functional refers to malfunction of how the body works. Functional chest pain syndrome is one of over 30 functional gastrointestinal (GI) disorders, known as FGIDs, the most common of which is irritable bowel syndrome. These functional symptom syndromes are collections of medically unexplained GI symptoms. The symptoms of these FGIDs commonly overlap with one another. Furthermore, they commonly co-occur with non-GI symptom syndromes, called functional somatic syndromes and chronic multisymptom illnesses. Examples of these symptom syndromes include, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue, chronic pelvic pain, and interstitial cystitis (painful bladder). Medically unexplained symptoms and symptom syndromes are commonly associated with depression, anxiety, and/or panic as comorbidities.
Research is showing how the mind/brain and body communicate with one another, and that the central mind/brain can become sensitized to peripheral bodily pain signals. So these symptom syndromes are now being called, central sensitivity syndromes.
A new book, Still Hurting? FIND HEALTH! Discover What's Behind Your SYMPTOMS (That Doctors Can't Explain), by this author and co-written with Thomas L Hudson MDiv, JD proposes that a new unifying and integrated model of disease is necessary in order to understand how and why interrelated medically unexplained symptoms and symptom syndromes occur, including the NCCP/functional chest pain syndrome, and what people can do to help themselves and work effectively with their caring professionals. Learn more:
Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.