Thoracic Pain: Symptoms, Causes and Treatment

Thoracic pain comes in many forms, ranging from a sting to a dull pain.

In certain cases, pain travels up the neck, and then radiates through the back of the jaw or down to one or both arms.

There are many problems that can cause chest pain. Most pain can be life threatening involving the heart or lungs.

Because it is difficult to pinpoint the exact cause of this type of pain, it is best to seek medical help.


Chest pain related to the heart

While chest pain is usually attributed to heart disease, many people with heart disease say they experience a vague discomfort for which “pain” does not seem to be an adequate description.

In general, chest discomfort related to a heart attack or other heart problem can be or is associated with:

  • Pressure, feeling of fullness or pressure in the chest.
  • Crushing or throbbing pain that radiates to the back, neck, jaw, shoulders and arms – especially the left arm.
  • Pain that lasts more than a few minutes, worsens with activity, goes away and returns, or varies in intensity.
  • Breathing difficulty
  • Cold perspiration
  • Dizziness or exhaustion.
  • Nausea or vomiting

Causes related to the heart

Heart attack . It is a consequence caused by a blood clot that obstructs the flow of blood to the heart muscle.

Angina . The thick plates are stored progressively in the internal walls of the arteries responsible for transferring blood to the heart.

These plaques narrow the arteries and limit the blood supply to the heart.

Aortic dissection . This deadly condition involves the main artery that runs from the heart (aorta). If the layers of this vessel separate, the blood will be forced between the layers and may cause a rupture in the aorta.

Pericarditis This condition, produces an inflammation of the sac that surrounds the heart, usually causes intense pain that gets worse when you inhale or when lying down.

Digestive causes

Acidity . A burning sensation in the back of the sternum occurs when stomach acid rises into the esophagus and causes pain in the chest.

Swallowing disorders . Disorders of the esophagus can make it very difficult and even painful to swallow food.

Gallbladder or problems of the pancreas . Gallstones or swelling of the gallbladder or pancreas cause abdominal pain that radiates to the chest.

Causes related to the lungs

Pulmonary embolism . This cause of chest pain occurs when a clot lodges in a pulmonary artery blocking the flow of blood.

Pleurisy . When the membrane that surrounds the lungs becomes inflamed, it causes pain in the chest, which gets worse when you inhale or cough.

Collapsed lung . It usually starts suddenly and can last for hours and occurs when there is air leakage in the space between the lung and the ribs.

Pulmonary hypertension . High blood pressure in the arteries that carry blood to the lungs (pulmonary hypertension) can cause chest pain.

Tests and diagnosis

Electrocardiograma (ECG)

Record the electrical activity of the heart through electrodes attached to the skin.

Because the injured heart muscle does not transport electrical impulses properly, the ECG can state that a heart attack has started or is ongoing.

Blood test

They verify the increase in the levels of certain enzymes that are normally found in the heart muscle.

The deterioration of the cells of the heart, allow that these enzymes have losses, during a period of hours in the blood.

Chest x-ray

It allows doctors to check the condition of the lungs and the size and shape of the heart and blood vessels.

Similarly, a chest x-ray can reveal pulmonary problems such as pneumonia or a collapsed lung.

Computed tomography (CT)

They can be used to look for a blood clot in the lung (pulmonary embolism) or to verify that the aorta artery is not having aortic dissection.


Drugs used to treat some of the most common causes of chest pain include:

Relaxing artery

Nitroglycerin relaxes the arteries of the heart, making blood flow easily through the narrowed spaces.

Some medications for blood pressure also relax and widen blood vessels.


If chest pain is suspected to be related to the heart, it is likely that they will be given aspirin.


If there is a clot in one of the arteries that irrigates the heart or lungs, medications will be administered that inhibit blood clotting.

Acid-inhibiting medications

If the pain is caused by stomach acid, the doctor may suggest medications that reduce the amount of acid in the stomach.


If you are experiencing panic attacks, the doctor may prescribe antidepressants to help control the symptoms. Psychological therapy, such as cognitive behavioral therapy, may also be recommended.