Pain on the left side of the chest can be a sign of a heart problem, and therefore some people often think they are having a heart attack when it occurs. However, this type of pain can also indicate less serious problems, like excess intestinal gas, reflux or an anxiety attack.
When pain is very intense and associated with symptoms like shortness of breath and tingling in the left arm, or if it does not improve within a few minutes, you should proceed to the hospital. An electrocardiogram will likely be ordered to rule out a cardiac problem, especially for older adults or people with a chronic illness, like high blood pressure, diabetes or high cholesterol.
Learn about the most common causes of left-sided chest pain below and what you can do in each situation:
1. Excess gas
The accumulation of intestinal gas is one of the most common causes of left-sided chest pain, This type of pain is more common in people with constipation. It is characterized by a mild discomfort that persists for some minutes or hours, but is alleviated with flatulence or a bowel movement.
This type of pain usually occurs on its own and does not appear with other symptoms. Some people, however, may notice some mild bloating and intestinal sounds.
What to do: To alleviate pain, you can lightly massage the abdomen to stimulate the gas to pas. In addition, you can try lying on your back and hugging your knees to you chest to help with gas flow and discomfort. You can also try these home remedies to alleviate gas.
2. Anxiety or panic attack
Situations that cause high anxiety or panic attacks can lead to chest pain that is very similar to a heart attack. The pain differs, however, because the pain is usually mild and sharp, instead of heavy or pressure-like. In addition, it is common for people with panic attacks or anxiety to feel tingling on their whole body and not just in one arm.
Anxiety or panic attacks usually occur after moments of high stress, like an argument, while an infarct can appear for any reason.
What to do: When you suspect anxiety or a panic attack, it's important to look for a calm place and try to relax. You can also listen to music or drink a calming tea, like passionflower, valerian or chamomile. If you are being treated for anxiety, you can also take your as-needed or PRN anxiolytic medication.
If the pain continues for longer than 15 minutes and you suspect an infarct, however, you should proceed to the doctor. Even if you are just experiencing anxiety, the hospital can offer treatment options to help with the pain.
3. Gastroesophageal Reflux (GERD)
Another common situation that results in left chest pain is GERD. This condition is characterized by the back-up of stomach acid up to the esophagus, which can cause involuntary stomach contractions, resulting in chest pain.
In addition to pain, you may also feel a lump in the throat, heartburn, or stomach burning. Learn more about the causes of GERD and other symptoms you may experience.
What to do: A good way of relieving reflux pain is to drink ginger tea, which helps to decrease inflammation. Nonetheless, people with reflux should also consider diet changes. Antacids and stomach protectors are also options. Ideally, your treatment should be guided by a doctor or gastroenterologist, after confirming a diagnosis through testing like an endoscopy. If GERD is confirmed, you can check out our recommended 3-day diet plan for tips on how you can incorporate diet changes into your lifestyle.
Angina is a condition that occurs when there is decreased blood flow to the cardiac muscle, leading to left-sided chest pain. It can last for 5 to 10 minutes and radiate to the arm or neck.
This condition is more common in people with high blood pressure, smokers and those with high cholesterol.
What to do: It is important to consult a cardiologist, who will order cardiac testing to confirm a diagnosis. Generally, angina can be treated with lifestyle changes and medication use. When it is not properly treated, it can result in serious complications, like infarct, arrhythmia and even a stroke.
5. Heart inflammation
Inflammation of the cardiac muscle, also known as pericarditis or myocarditis, can also cause pain around the heart area. Normally, these conditions occur due to complications from a bodily infection (which can be viral, fungal or bacterial) that was not properly treated.
When there is inflammation in any structure of the heart, in addition you pain, other symptoms like irregular heartbeats, dizziness or shortness of breath can also occur.
What to do: Any time you suspect a heart problem, it is important to proceed immediately to the hospital or to see a cardiologist.
6. Heart attack
A heart attack, or myocardial infarct, is an emergency situation that can put a life at risk. For this reason, if you suspect an infarct, you should go straight to the hospital to confirm a diagnosis and start appropriate treatment.
An infarct is more common in people with uncontrolled hypertension, uncontrolled diabetes, high cholesterol or an unhealthy lifestyle (e.g. smoking, little to no physical exercise, or overweight).
The classic symptoms of a heart attack include intense left chest pain which feels like it is squeezing, tingling in the arm, shortness of breath, coughing and altered level of consciousness. Learn more about the most common symptoms of a heart attack.
What to do: If you suspect a heart attack, you should call for immediate medical assistance by calling 911 or proceed quickly to the hospital. Try to keep calm to avoid worsening of your symptoms. If you think you are experiencing a heart attack and you do not have any medication allergies, you can take 300mg of aspirin, or 3 ASA pills, to make your blood thinner. If you have a history of heart attacks, the cardiologist may have recommended a nitrate medication to be used in emergencies.