When a paramedic arrives at your side when you are feeling chest pain, she really has one thing to decide at first: Is the chest pain coming from your heart or not? Chest pain that comes from your heart (cardiac chest pain) may be a symptom of a heart attack or an indicator that something less deadly is wrong with your heart muscle (often known as angina).
Besides the heart, however, there are plenty of other things that can cause chest pain. The lungs can be a cause of pain in several ways:
- Pneumonia or some other respiratory infection
- Pulmonary embolism (blood clot in the lungs)
- Asthma or COPD
- Inflammation of the membranes that line the space between the lungs and the ribcage (pleurisy)
Other organs in the chest include the esophagus. Irritation of the esophagus from food getting stuck or too much digestive acid can cause severe chest pain similar to cardiac chest pain.
One of the more common, non-cardiac causes of chest pain is a pulled muscle. The chest is home to a dizzying array of muscles that are responsible for movement and breathing. Muscle fatigue, sprains and tears can lead to severe pain. Even forceful coughing is enough to tear or stretch muscles. Indeed, severe coughing can even break ribs, which everybody agrees hurts really bad.
Broken ribs are also a concern with chest trauma, an almost certain cause of chest pain. Chest trauma can be almost anything, from gunshot wounds and stabbings to getting smacked in the chest by the steering wheel in a car accident.