Chest and breast pain may be the body’s way of warning itself of possible injury to the chest structure. Causes vary from hormonal changes to pulmonary or cardiac-related cases. There are two types of chest pain: somatic and visceral. Somatic pain may come from the skin or the muscles and bones and is often described as a sharp, stabbing sensation. Visceral pain originates in organs and cavity linings.
A person with chest and breast pain might experience several symptoms in varying degrees. These include shortness of breath, burning sensation behind the sternum, and pain that radiates to the arms, shoulders, and neck. Other symptoms include dizziness, profuse sweating, and trouble swallowing. There is also a feeling of tenderness on the chest when touched.
Musculoskeletal chest and breast pain is usually the result of muscle strain from strenuous activities like exercise and sports or direct physical impact. Another possible cause of this symptom is slipped rib syndrome, which is a result of increased mobility in the 8th to 10th ribs. These ribs, unlike the other seven pairs, are not attached to the sternum. Somatic chest pain is diagnosed in 15 to 30 percent of cases.
Pulmonary chest pain is pain, on the other hand, that originates from the lungs. The most common sources are chronic cough, pneumonia, and asthma. In rare cases, serious medical conditions like pleurodynia, pneumothorax, or pulmonary embolus can cause intense pain in the chest. Patients with sickle cell anemia can experience acute chest syndrome, a potentially fatal vasoocclusive condition.
In women, hormonal change is the most common cause of chest and breast pain. It could be due to puberty, premenstrual syndrome (PMS), or menstruation. Other gender-specific conditions that contribute to chest pain include pregnancy, menopause, and fibrocystic breast disease. There are also certain medications that contribute to the pain such as diuretics, spironolactone, and methyldopa. Other causes include breast infections, shingles, and liver damage from alcoholism.
Cardiac chest pain is considered the most dangerous and life-threatening of all chest pains, the most common form of which is angina. This is when the inner walls of the arteries are blocked due to plaque or cholesterol build-up. Prinzmetal's angina is a type of angina that temporary restricts blood circulation to the heart, causing heart spasms. This usually occurs when the body is at rest and might be related to coronary heart diseases. Individuals experiencing prolonged cramping or heaviness of the chest are advised to consult their doctors.