NHS website

Chest pain

Read about chest pain, which can be caused by anything from muscle pain to a heart attack and should never be ignored

10 October 2018

Introduction

Most chest pain isn't a sign of anything serious but you should get medical advice just in case. Get immediate medical help if you think you're having a heart attack.

Call 999 if you have sudden chest pain that:

  • spreads to your arms, back, neck or jaw
  • makes your chest feel tight or heavy
  • also started with shortness of breath, sweating and feeling or being sick
  • lasts more than 15 minutes

You could be having a heart attack ↗. Call 999 immediately as you need immediate treatment in hospital.

See a GP or go to your local walk-in centre if:

  • you have chest pain that comes and goes
  • you have chest pain that goes away quickly but you're still worried

It's important to get medical advice to make sure it's nothing serious.

Find a walk-in centre ↗

Common causes of chest pain

Chest pain has many different causes – only the most common are listed below. In most cases, chest pain is not caused by a heart problem.

Your symptoms might give you an idea of the cause. Don't self-diagnose – see your GP if you're worried.

Chest pain symptoms Possible cause
Starts after eating, bringing up food or bitter tasting fluids, feeling full and bloated heartburn ↗ or indigestion ↗
Starts after chest injury or chest exercise, feels better when resting the muscle chest sprain or strain ↗
Triggered by worries or a stressful situation, heartbeat gets faster, sweating, dizziness anxiety ↗ or panic attack ↗
Gets worse when you breathe in and out, coughing up yellow or green mucus, high temperature chest infection ↗ or pneumonia ↗
Tingling feeling on skin, skin rash appears that turns into blisters shingles ↗

Chest pain and heart problems

The most common heart problems that cause chest pain include:

  • pericarditis ↗ – which usually causes a sudden, sharp, stabbing pain that gets worse when you breathe deeply or lie down
  • angina ↗ or a heart attack ↗ – which have similar symptoms but a heart attack is life-threatening

You're more likely to have heart problems if you're older or know you're at risk of coronary heart disease ↗.

For example, if you: