What causes chest pain on the left side?

By | March 15, 2020

A person should never ignore chest pain. If a person is experiencing chest pain on the left side of their body, this could indicate a heart attack or other medical conditions, such as a lung problem or inflammation of the lining around a person’s heart.

This article will cover the potential causes and symptoms of chest pain on the left side.

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A person with chest pain on the left side may be experiencing lung problems.

It can be difficult to identify whether chest pain is a sign of a heart attack.

However, there are three indications that chest pain may not be a heart attack:

  • Specific location: If pain is coming from one particular place, it is not likely to be a heart attack.
  • Worsening pain: Chest pain associated with a heart attack does not get worse when breathing.
  • Varying locations: Chest pain associated with a heart attack may spread between the shoulder blades, and into the arms and jaw, but it does not move from one side to the other.

If a person thinks they may be experiencing a heart attack, they should call 911 and seek immediate medical attention. They should not attempt to drive themselves to the hospital.

Signs a person may be having a heart attack include:

  • chest pain or tightness that typically starts in the center of the chest and radiates outward
  • dizziness
  • feeling faint
  • nausea
  • pain that may extend from the chest to the arms, neck, jaw, or shoulders
  • shortness of breath
  • sweating

Women are more likely than men to experience symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, fatigue, and pain in the back or jaw.

Learn more about chest pain in women here.

Acid reflux and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) are common causes of left-sided chest pain.

These conditions occur when acid comes up from the stomach into the esophagus.

The result is a burning sensation across the chest that may occur on one side or the other.

Other symptoms may include:

  • a burning feeling in the chest
  • difficulty swallowing
  • a sour taste in the mouth

An esophageal tear or rupture is a medical emergency that may cause non-cardiac chest pain.

The condition occurs when the tube that connects the mouth to the stomach tears. This enables food or fluids from the mouth to leak into the chest and around the lungs.

Symptoms of an esophageal rupture include:

  • faster breathing
  • chest pain
  • fever
  • nausea
  • vomiting, including vomiting blood

Sometimes a person may experience this type of injury after extreme vomiting or experiencing physical trauma around the esophagus.

There are many types of injury to soft tissue or bones in the chest that can cause left-sided chest pain. An example could be a broken rib or costochondritis, which is inflammation of the cartilage surrounding a rib.

If a person has experienced some form of trauma, such as a fall or a car accident, these injuries may lead to chest pain.

Some signs that a musculoskeletal injury has occurred include:

  • hearing or feeling a cracking sensation related to the ribs
  • pain that usually worsens when breathing
  • swelling or tenderness at a specific area
  • visible bruising

Pericarditis is a medical condition that results from inflammation in the pericardium, which is the tissue that holds the heart.

The layers usually glide against each other effortlessly, allowing the heart to beat. However, if the layers become inflamed, a person may experience left-sided chest pain.

Additional pericarditis symptoms include:

  • coughing
  • fatigue
  • heart palpitations or occasional rapid heart rate
  • leg swelling
  • low-grade fever
  • sharp chest pain that is usually worse when taking a breath in
  • shortness of breath

A person may often experience pericarditis after an illness, such as an upper respiratory infection.

Pleurisy is a condition where the tissues around the lungs become inflamed. This can cause pain in the chest, especially when breathing.

Other symptoms may include:

  • a dry cough
  • shortness of breath
  • pain in the shoulder

A variety of conditions may lead to pleurisy, such as flu or bacterial infections.

A pneumothorax is a collapsed lung.

This can occur spontaneously, collapsing a small portion of the lung or the lung in almost its entirety.

Symptoms of a pneumothorax include:

  • becoming easily fatigued
  • breathing that becomes more painful when taking a deep breath or coughing
  • a rapid heart rate
  • shortness of breath
  • a sudden, sharp chest pain
  • tightness in the chest

If the pneumothorax is very large, a person may require the insertion of a chest tube to re-inflate the lung and help keep it open while the lung heals.

Left-sided chest pain has many potential causes.

A doctor will consider a person’s medical history and symptoms when making a diagnosis. A doctor may also perform a physical examination on the chest, heart, lungs, neck, and abdomen.

After the physical exam, a doctor may order a variety of tests, including:

  • an ECG
  • an X-ray
  • a complete blood count (CBC)
  • a computed tomography pulmonary angiography (CTPA)
  • an ultrasound

Treatments for left-sided chest pain depend upon the underlying cause.

For gastrointestinal pain such as GERD, the treatment typically includes medications, including proton pump inhibitors, H2 blockers, and promotility agents.

Inflammation due to pericarditis or pleurisy may involve administering antibiotics and resting until the tissue lining has had time to heal.

A person may require surgery to treat pneumothorax and esophageal ruptures.

If a person can pinpoint chest pain on their left side, it is less likely that a heart attack is the underlying cause.

However, several conditions may be medical emergencies, such as esophageal rupture and pneumothorax.

If a person’s symptoms are severe or they are having trouble breathing, they should seek immediate medical attention.

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