What Are the Most Common Causes of Chest Pain and Numbness?

Chest pain and numbness can be a sign of a heart attack.
Article Details
  • Written By: Elise Czajkowski
  • Edited By: Susan Barwick
  • Last Modified Date: 19 August 2014
  • Copyright Protected:
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    Conjecture Corporation
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There are many different causes of chest pain and numbness, and the type of pain is a key indicator of the cause of the discomfort. Minor burning pain is often caused by heartburn or an upper respiratory infection. More severe pain can often be an indication of a very serious problem such as a heart attack or coronary artery disease.

Heartburn, a very common cause of chest pain, occurs when stomach acid flows back into the esophagus, the tube that leads from the mouth to the stomach. This causes a burning sensation behind the breastbone in the center of the chest. Normally, heartburn is a non-serious reaction to foods eaten, medications taken, lying down or bending forward. In some cases, heartburn is a sign of a more serious disease called gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD.

Chest pain and numbness that is severe can be a sign of a heart attack. A heart attack is caused by a blood clot that blocks the flow of the blood through a coronary artery, thus interrupting the flow of the blood to the heart. It often causes a crushing or squeezing pain in the chest, accompanied by numbness. Numbness of the left shoulder and arm is considered a common symptom of a heart attack, but numbness can also occur in the right arm, back, neck and jaw.

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Another common cause of severe chest pain and numbness is angina. Angina is caused by a reduction in the flow of blood to the heart muscle and is associated with pressure and heaviness in the chest. It is often described as being "like someone standing on your chest". Angina is one of the symptoms of coronary artery disease, which occurs when the heart muscle is not receiving enough oxygen-rich blood.

Severe chest pain can also be caused by a pulmonary embolism, which occurs when one of more of the arteries to the lungs is blocked. The arteries become blocked by blood clots, normally formed in the legs, which have travelled through the body.

Other common causes of chest pain include pericarditis, a swelling and irritation of the membrane that surrounds the heart, and pleurisy, inflammation of the membrane surrounding the chest cavity and lungs. Very serious cases of chest pain can be caused by aortic dissection, which occurs when the inner layer of the aorta tears and allows blood into the middle layer. When this occurs the inner and middle layers separate.

Panic attacks can also cause chest pain and numbness. These are sudden episodes of fear that can trigger extreme physical reactions for no apparent reason. Routine panic attacks may be a symptom of a panic disorder.

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Discuss this Article

Jewellian
Post 2

I agree SpecialBug. It is especially critical to investigate the cause of chest pain accompanied by arm pain and numbness. Don't assume it is nothing. It is easy to be in denial.

SpecialBug
Post 1
Chest pain causes panic because it is often assumed that the pain is heart related. But, chronic chest pain or even intermittent pain in the chest, should never be ignored. Better safe than sorry when it comes to chest pain. Get to the emergency room.

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