Chest pain can be caused by a number of factors and is often frightening to the patient. It can present as muscular pains in the chest due to excess work, trauma or exposure to cold weather. Young adults, particularly men, can develop pain at the junction of the rib with the chest bone due to mental tension. In such cases, pain occurs even on touching the part. Fibromyalgia is a condition in which chest pain occurs due to mental stress and anxiety. In this condition, a person has associated symptoms of stress like disturbed sleep and palpitations.
Infections of the pleural surface (covering of lungs) or lungs like Tuberculosis and pneumonia will also produce pain on the affected part of the chest. The pain will be augmented by breathing. There will be associated symptoms of cough, high fever and loss of appetite.
Problems in the digestive system can also cause chest pain. Inflammation of the inner lining of the esophagus or food pipe causes pain which is perceived in the middle of the chest. It may be felt as heaviness in the chest or a burning sensation.
Inflammation of the stomach can cause burning pain in the abdomen and also in the chest.
The pain in this situation occurs typically in the middle of the chest and is burning in nature. It augments after meals. This may or may not be associated with nausea or bilious vomiting. Flatulence or gaseous distension after meals produces a bloating sensation and pain in the chest. Chronic constipation if present also contributes to this problem. In elderly persons, sometimes cervical spondylosis can cause compression of the anterior nerve roots producing chest pain.
The most sinister cause of chest pain is ischemic heart disease. Diminished blood supply to the heart due to narrowing of coronary arteries leads to chest pain. Typically, this pain occurs in the left side of the chest, arm, hands, fingers or jaws. Pain appears after any exertion and feels like pressure and one experiences a sense of suffocation.
Diagnosis of the cause of chest pain can be made easily by determining the site, nature and other characteristics of the pain and associated features like fever, nausea etc. Chest X-ray, electrocardiogram and echocardiography also help in making a diagnosis.
When diagnosed and treated timely, chest pain is definitely cured whatever the cause. Some precautions can be taken to prevent relapse. Prevention of exposure to cold weather by wearing warm clothes keeps away muscular pains.
Regular meals, abstinence from alcohol, avoiding excessive intake of tea or coffee, eating fresh fruits and green vegetables ensures good digestion and prevents related problems of abdominal symptoms and chest pain.
Control of hypertension and diabetes minimizes the risk for angina or myocardial infarction. A healthy life style which includes proper diet and physical exercise keeps one healthy and also prevents pain in the chest of any kind.
The author is a Specialist internal medicine-Ruhengeri Hospital