In most cases, pain on the right side of the chest is a temporary symptom that happens due to conditions that are not serious, such as too much stress, muscle strain or acid reflux.
However, chest pain, whether on the right or the left side, can have several causes, including problems in the digestive system, in the lungs, and even the heart, and these need to be diagnosed and treated.
If the pain happens frequently, is very intense, worsens with time, or comes with other symptoms such as a tingling feeling in the arm and face, difficulty breathing, or fainting, it’s important to go to a hospital or call for a doctor, as it can be a sign of a life-threatening problem.
The most common causes of pain on the right side of the chest include:
1. Stress and anxiety
Excess stress and anxiety are two conditions that can lead to a panic attack and cause very similar symptoms to a heart attack, including sudden chest pain. Usually the pain is felt more in the middle of the chest, but many times it can radiate to the right side of the body.
Added to the chest pain, there are other common symptoms such as shallow breathing, breathlessness, tingling in the hands and feet, and sweating. Unlike a heart attack, a panic attack is more common after a very stressful situation and the chest pain tends to disappear in a few minutes.
What to do: the best way to alleviate the discomfort caused by a panic attack is to try to calm down, to allow breathing to become regular and the muscles to become less tense. Another thing you can do is go somewhere quiet and drink a cup of valerian or chamomile tea. If the pain is still strong or if you suspect a heart attack, go to hospital or call for medical help.
2. Muscle strain
A strained muscle is another common cause of chest pain and it usually happens one or two days after an activity that uses the chest muscles more intensively. This increased use of the muscles can be intentional, from doing exercise in the gym, for instance, but it can also be involuntary, for example, from painting a ceiling.
In addition, strong pangs in the chest region can also cause lesions in the muscle fibers, and this may not cause pain immediately, but they may become painful after a few days. In these cases, other common symptoms are an increase in pain when touching a muscle, slight swelling, and difficulty moving the arms.
What to do: applying ice to the region for 15 to 20 minutes, three to four times a day will help with pain relief. Also, you can do a light massage on the region with an anti-inflammatory lotion. If the pain does not improve in three days, we recommend you go to a general physician or a physiotherapist, as more specific treatment may be needed.
3. Acid reflux (GERD)
Acid reflux is a common condition that affects many people and it happens when the acid in the stomach goes up to the esophagus causing a sensation of heartburn, especially after eating. This discomfort can sometimes be felt in the form of pain, which ends up radiating to the chest and it can affect the right side.
Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is generally accompanied by other symptoms such as a frequent need to burp, a sour taste in the mouth, feeling like there’s a lump in the throat, and a dry cough.
What to do: depending on the gravity, the reflux symptoms can be relieved through simple diet changes, such as avoiding eating too much at once and avoiding fatty and spicy foods. However, there are cases where medication to block the stomach acid may be necessary. Therefore, if the discomfort does not improve with diet changes, we recommend you visit a gastroenterologist to start adequate treatment.
Costochondritis is a less common problem but it can cause intense pain in the chest, usually in the middle of the chest, but it can radiate to the right or the left side.
This condition happens when the cartilages that connect the sternum bone to the ribs get inflamed after the chest undergoes strong pressure, periods of intense coughing, or bad posture. Costochondritis causes sensitivity in the mid-chest area and pain that gets worse when you take a deep breath or cough.
What to do: costochondritis is a temporary problem that tends to improve after a few days, without requiring specific treatment. However, stretching exercises and applying ice to the region for 15 to 20 minutes, three to four times a day can decrease inflammation and relieve discomfort, and anti-inflammatory medication may also help.
5. Gallbladder or liver inflammation
The gallbladder and the liver are two organs of the abdominal cavity that are located on the right side of the body and so, when they get inflamed or suffer alterations they can cause pain in that area. Although it is more common for the pain to be in the abdominal region, in some cases it can radiate to the chest too.
When there is a problem with the gallbladder or the liver there can be other symptoms besides the chest pain and these include vomiting, loss of appetite, general feeling of being unwell, and jaundice.
What to do: if you suspect you have gallbladder inflammation or a liver problem, it’s important to visit a gastroenterologist to confirm the diagnosis and start adequate treatment. Gallbladder inflammation is usually quite serious, especially if the gallbladder is obstructed by a stone. In these cases, the pain is very strong and there can be fever and acute vomiting. If this happens, go to the hospital immediately.
6. Lung problems
Various problems in the lungs can cause pain in the chest region, especially when breathing. In addition to the pain, there may also be coughing, shortness of breath, shallow breathing and fever.
Lung problems are more common after accidents or in people who have chronic heart diseases or pulmonary diseases.
What to do: chest pain due to problems with the lungs can be a sign of serious problems such as pleurisy, pneumonia, pneumothorax, or even pulmonary embolism. If you suspect you have a lung problem please go to the hospital to get exams done, such as an x-ray to the thorax so that a doctor can identify the cause and start adequate treatment, which can vary according to the cause.
7. Heart problems
When you get chest pain, one of the main concerns is that it may be a sign of a heart problem. However, this isn’t common. That being said, heart problems can be the cause of chest pain, including the pain that radiates to the right side, especially if the heart muscle is inflamed.
Usually heart problems are more common in elderly people, people with other chronic problems or patients who are hospitalized due to serious infections. Heart pain is usually very intense and causes a sensation of something tightening the heart. Additionally, there can also be other symptoms such as palpitations, cough, difficulty breathing and fainting.
What to do: if you suspect that the pain could be caused by a heart problem, it’s important to go to the hospital quickly or call for medical help, so that the cause can be diagnosed and treatment started.
When to go to the doctor
Many times, chest pain disappears after a few minutes and so, there’s no reason to worry. However, being examined by a doctor is the only way of identifying the correct cause. Therefore, it’s best to go to hospital if:
- The pain is very intense or gets worse with time;
- The pain lasts more than 15 minutes;
- Other symptoms appear such as difficulty breathing, high temperature or fainting.
In addition, elderly people and those with chronic problems, especially of the respiratory system or the heart, should be examined by a doctor, as the pain may indicate that the condition got worse, and treatment may need to be adjusted.