What Causes Chest Pain when Swallowing?

Infections may cause chest pain when swallowing.
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  • Written By: T. Carrier
  • Edited By: John Allen
  • Last Modified Date: 18 October 2014
  • Copyright Protected:
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Chest pain may have many causes, but it should never be taken lightly. Although some types of chest pain are pervasive, others may occur in conjunction with a specific task, such as swallowing. Several different muscles and other parts in the throat and chest work together to produce the swallowing effect, and disruption of any of these processes can result in pain. Difficulties around the esophagus in particular can facilitate chest pain when swallowing.

The esophagus is the gateway from the throat to the stomach. As with any body part, this long tube is subject to any manner of infection, strain, or injury. Sometimes the esophagus may simply spasm, causing pain in the chest near the abdominal area. While experts have not determined what exactly causes these spasms, foods or drinks of an extremely hot or cold nature seem to be a culprit in many cases. Other similar disorders caused by abnormally moving esophagus muscles include achalasia and nutcracker esophagus.

Other areas in the chest, particularly nerves and muscles, can become inflamed, leading to chest pain when swallowing. For example, in a condition called costochondritis, the joints where ribs attach to the sternum become tender. Any movement in this area, including movement induced by swallowing, will likely cause breastbone pain. Pinched nerves may cause similar issues. Besides swallowing, other movements like breathing may cause pain.

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Eating-related chest pain when swallowing is often an indicator of gastroesophogeal reflux disease (GERD). This condition occurs when acid from the stomach pushes its way into the esophagus. Food or drink intake will aggravate this process due to increased acid production. The pain may be mistaken for heartburn, and if left untreated will recur. This type of pain is often associated with burning pain in the middle of the chest, around the breastbone. Isolated bouts of heartburn can cause similar disturbances.

Chronic GERD can create esophagitis, or inflammation of the esophagus. Other causes for this particular ailment range from viral infection to irritation caused by inserting medical tubes into the throat. If anti-heartburn medications do not alleviate chest pain, an esophageal condition may be to blame. Although exceptions exist to any condition, chest pain exclusively related to swallowing is not typically indicative of a heart problem.

Chest pain when swallowing may also be found following the onset of a hiatal hernia. Unlike GERD or esophagitis, this condition results from a malfunction with the stomach rather than the esophagus. Pain in this case results when the stomach pushes into the chest past the diaphragm, the muscle that separates the throat from the lower digestive system. Eating and swallowing will likely exacerbate the pain of a hiatal hernia.

Treatments vary depending on the specific cause of the chest pain. Pharmaceuticals or surgical intervention may be required in some cases, while other conditions may alleviate with time or a simple change of diet. Any appearance of blood, breathing difficulties, or other abnormal symptoms concurrent with chest pain should necessitate an immediate visit to a medical professional, however.

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Discuss this Article

trucker55
Post 5

For the last 10 years, I have been experiencing a somewhat severe discomfort in my chest that comes on shortly after beginning to eat any sort of food. It doesn't matter if what I am eating is heavy or light.

The problem only lasts for about three to eight minutes, and the severity of this does vary. When it comes on, I have a very hard time breathing, there is a pressure in my upper chest and I literally have to try to inhale to the best of my ability and hold my breath to try to ease the discomfort.

There is no regularity in what happens here. Once the situation disappears I can return to my meal with no further issue.

This never happens more than once in a day. The issue can go for days without reoccurring, then without warning, I will begin to eat something and the feeling suddenly comes over me. What is this?

It's hard for my physician to diagnose something that is not there, and he has basically stated just that. Any X-rays taken don't appear to display any sort of problem to be seen.

This has me concerned. A severe situation has seen me nearly fall to the floor and pass out.

anon352673
Post 4

I have costochondritis on my right side according to my doc. I had a endoscope done and no acid reflux damage was shown, yet I have horrible pain swallowing on my right side where my costo is.

This is the only website I can find showing costochondritis is related to swallowing pain. Help! I also believe I have Tiezte syndrome which is like costochondritis but involves swelling.

turquoise
Post 3

@donasmrs-- I'm not a doctor but it sounds like GERD.

Acid reflux is a horrible disease. Stomach acid can literally eat away at tissues if it comes in contact with the esophagus frequently. Acid reflux also causes nausea and heartburn.

I'm guessing that your esophagus is irritated from the acid and that's why you have painful swallowing. You need to see a doctor for a diagnosis though. You can't diagnose yourself and you don't want to delay treatment in case it's something serious.

donasmrs
Post 2

What might be the cause of heart burn, nausea and pain in the chest when swallowing? I have all of these symptoms.

literally45
Post 1

I had a severe upper respiratory infection last month. I was sick for weeks and I almost coughed up a lung. After the infection was gone, I noticed that I had chest pain symptoms when I swallowed and when I breathed in.

I went back to my doctor right away because I was worried that the infection was back. He did a physical examination, checked my throat and listened to my lungs. He said that the pain was due to strained chest muscles. I guess I coughed so much when I was sick that my muscles got injured.

Like my doctor said, the pain went away on its own after a few weeks. Now I know that chest muscles can be strained too!

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