Chest pain

Immediate action required: Phone 999 immediately if:

You or someone else has symptoms like:

  • central chest pain or discomfort in the chest that doesn't go away – it may feel like pressure, tightness or squeezing
  • pain that radiates down the left arm, or both arms, or to the neck, jaw, back or stomach
  • unconsciousness
  • seizures or fitting
  • difficulty breathing (snoring or rasping)
  • rapid heart beat
  • low or undetectable heart beat
  • blue or pale tingling of knees, hands and lips
  • chest pain and breathlessness, nausea, sweating or coughing up blood

Causes of chest pain

There are a number of different conditions that can cause chest pain. You should always seek medical advice to make sure you get a proper diagnosis.

Depending on your symptoms and circumstances, you may need further investigation.

Heart attack

A heart attack occurs when the blood supply to part of the heart is suddenly blocked.

Chest pain is more likely to be caused by a heart attack if it:

  • lasts more than 15 minutes
  • occurs while resting

Angina

Angina is a condition where the blood supply to the muscles of the heart is restricted.

Chest pain caused by angina is usually triggered by physical activity (exertion). It usually gets better with rest after a few minutes.

Pulmonary embolism

A pulmonary embolism is a blockage in the blood vessel that carries blood from the heart to the lungs. This can cause sharp, stabbing chest pain that may get worse when you breathe in. It can also be accompanied by:

  • breathlessness
  • a cough
  • dizziness
  • coughing up blood

Pericarditis

Pericarditis is inflammation of the sac surrounding your heart. This can cause a sudden, sharp and stabbing pain in your chest. It may also cause more of a dull ache. This pain usually gets worse when you lie down.

Lung conditions

Lung conditions that can cause chest pain include:

  • pneumonia – inflammation of the lungs (usually caused by an infection)
  • pleurisy – inflammation of the membrane surrounding the lungs (usually caused by an infection)

Conditions affecting the lungs can cause sharp chest pain that:

  • gets worse when you breathe in and out
  • is accompanied by other symptoms like coughing or breathlessness

If someone has severe pneumonia or pleurisy, they may also have symptoms like:

  • rapid breathing
  • confusion

Seek medical advice immediately if you or someone else has symptoms of:

  • a heart attack
  • angina
  • a pulmonary embolism
  • pericarditis
  • pneumonia
  • pleurisy

Other causes of chest pain

There are many other potential causes of chest pain, including:

  • gastro-oesophageal reflux disease (GORD) - acid from the stomach comes up into the oesophagus (gullet) causing burning chest pain (heartburn) and an unpleasant taste in the mouth 
  • acute cholecystitis - inflammation of the gallbladder that can cause a sudden sharp pain in the upper right side of your tummy that spreads towards your right shoulder
  • strained muscle - can cause chest pain that's painful and tender to touch
  • costochondritis - inflammation in the cartilage that joins the ribs to the breastbone (sternum) that can cause pain, swelling and tenderness around the ribs
  • panic attack or anxiety - can sometimes be accompanied by chest pain

Non-urgent advice: Phone 111 or speak to your GP if:

You or someone else has chest pain that:

  • is minor
  • has eased

Last updated:
06 April 2022