Chest Pain on Left Side

If you experience chest pain on your left side (especially pain that can be described as “sharp” or “stabbing”), you may immediately think that you are suffering from a heart attack or some heart-related condition. However, that may not be the case, as there are other (and more probable) causes – please see our article Sharp Pain in Chest for an explanation. But just to put your heart at rest, the 2 main causes for heart-related chest pain are angina and heart attack:

  • Angina:

    the pain is usually described as a “squeezing” or “choking” pain with a sensation of tightness and pressure in the left or center of the chest, and the pain may radiate to the lower jaw (feels like a toothache), neck, shoulder, arm or back. It may feel indigestion and fatigue may set in. The pain will generally subside with rest. This pain results when your heart is temporarily getting inadequate oxygen due to insufficient blood-flow through its (probably clogged) arteries.read more information on angina at https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/angina/

  • Heart attack:

    simply put, it is angina on steroids – the heart artery is completely, or almost completely blocked and the resulting symptoms are more severe: the pain starts from the mid-to-left side of the chest and may also spread to the jaw, left shoulder and left arm, stomach, or even the back (between the shoulder blades). The pain is frequently accompanied with breathlessness, nausea, vomiting, fatigue, abdominal discomfort or excessive sweating, and it does not go away with rest (as opposed to angina). read more information on heart attack by clicking here

Chest Pain on Left Side

(For more details on their characteristics, see Causes of Chest Pain)

Both angina and heart attack are examples of cardiac ischemia (ischemia means restriction in blood flow), which are generally around the center of the chest, and not solely to the left (or right) side. If the pain can be localized (i.e. pointed to with one finger), it is unlikely to be due to cardiac ischemia. The pain is also usually not described as “sharp” or “stabbing” pain, and tends gradually develop and get worse as time passes (over the period).

The chances that the pain is caused by cardiac ischemia are higher if you

  • Are a heavy smoker,
  • Have high blood pressure,
  • Diabetes,
  • High cholesterol, or
  • Have a family history of heart disease

Chest pain on the left side is probably due to other conditions relating to the chest wall, lungs, esophagus, muscles, ribs, tendons, or nerves. For left-sided chest pain in particular, here are the likely culprits:

  • Ribs-related:

    costochrondritis, or, inflammation of the cartilage connecting the ribs to the breastbone, may cause a dull pain on the left side, which will worsen on deep breaths or coughing. Another ribs-related condition – Tietze’s syndrome – may also cause chest pain on the left side

  • Gut (esophagus)-related:

    conditions like GERD – gastro esophageal reflux disease, which cause the backflow of stomach acid to the gut, esophagitis (inflammation of the esophagus), esophageal spasm et al may all cause left-sided chest pain. GERD, specifically, may cause cramps on the left side of the chest, which may be mistaken for cardiac ischemia

  • Abdomen-related:

    conditions like gallbladder disease, peptic ulcers, irritable bowel syndrome, and pancreatitis may be the underlying cause. Gallbladder disease, in particular, are usually linked with lower left chest pain or upper abdominal chest pain. As for pancreatitis, the pain may be alleviated by leaning forward (which you can then use to infer the cause). All these conditions usually arise due to problems with food digestion along the digestive system

  • Lungs-related:

    conditions such as pneumonia, pleuritis, pulmonary embolism, pulmonary hypertension, pneumothorax et al usually lead to pain on either side of the chest (including the left side). This pain is worsened with deep breaths or coughing

  • Emotions-related:

    conditions like panic attacks, stress or anxiety may cause hyperventilation which may in turn lead to chest pain

  • Muscles and/or nerves-related:

    conditions such as over-exertion during exercising, or bone-related conditions like herniated discs, arthritis in the neck etc may also give rise to chest pain in general, or specifically, left-sided chest pain
    These causes (and others) are also covered in the article Causes for Chest Pain.

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