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Noncardiac Chest Pain

Illustration of the chest showing position of the ribs, sternum, trachea, lungs, and diaphragm.

Based on your visit today, the health care provider doesn’t know what is causing your chest pain. In most cases, people who come to the emergency department with chest pain don’t have a problem with their heart. Instead, the pain is caused by other conditions. These may be problems with the lungs, muscles, bones, digestive tract, nerves, or mental health.

Lung problems

  • Inflammation around the lungs (pleurisy)

  • Collapsed lung (pneumothorax)

  • Fluid around the lungs (pleural effusion)

  • Lung cancer. This is a rare cause of chest pain.

Muscle or bone problems

  • Inflamed cartilage between the ribs (pleurisy)

  • Fibromyalgia

  • Rheumatoid arthritis

Digestive system problems

  • Reflux

  • Stomach ulcer

  • Spasms of the esophagus

  • Gall stones

  • Gallbladder inflammation

Mental health conditions

  • Panic or anxiety attacks

  • Emotional distress

Your condition doesn’t seem serious and your pain doesn’t appear to be coming from your heart. But sometimes the signs of a serious problem take more time to appear. Watch for the warning signs listed below.

Home care

Follow these guidelines when caring for yourself at home:

  • Rest today and avoid strenuous activity.

  • Take any prescribed medicine as directed.

Follow-up care

Follow up with your health care provider, or as advised, if you don’t start to feel better within 24 hours.

When to seek medical advice

Call your health care provider right away if any of these occur:

  • A change in the type of pain. Call if it feels different, becomes more serious, lasts longer, or begins to spread into your shoulder, arm, neck, jaw, or back.

  • Shortness of breath

  • You feel more pain when you breathe

  • Cough with dark-colored mucus or blood

  • Weakness, dizziness, or fainting

  • Fever of 100.4ºF (38ºC) or higher, or as directed by your health care provider

  • Swelling, pain, or redness in one leg

 

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