Most people are familiar with left sided chest pain and how it can indicate serious heart problems. However, right sided chest pain can also indicate a medical condition that needs attention.

Possible causes include an injury, acid reflux, a heart or lung problem, and an infection, such as pneumonia.

Some causes of right sided chest pain, such as muscle strain, go away without treatment within a few days. However, chest pain can also stem from a more serious condition, including a heart or lung issue. Anyone with concerns about a new or worsening chest pain should seek medical advice.

Here, find out about 18 possible causes of right sided chest pain and when to seek medical attention.

Right sided chest pain can occur due to many different conditions and injuries. Below, we discuss 18 potential causes.

1. Anxiety or stress

Severe anxiety or stress can trigger an anxiety attack or a panic attack. A person who has previously had a panic attack may develop panic disorder, in which they fear another panic attack.

People who experience panic and anxiety may also have symptoms that resemble those of a heart attack, such as:

  • chest pain
  • difficulty breathing
  • a rapid heart rate or palpitations
  • sweating

Some individuals also experience anxiety, stress, and panic because of a health condition, such as heart disease.

A panic attack usually lasts 5–10 minutes.

Anyone who suspects they may have symptoms of a heart attack should seek immediate medical advice.

What is the difference between a panic attack and an anxiety attack?

2. Muscle strain

Many different muscles make up the chest wall. A person can strain or sprain these muscles, for example, during exercise. As a result, the chest will feel painful and tender to the touch.

This type of chest pain usually goes away with rest and over-the-counter (OTC) pain relief medication, such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs.

Research shows that 28% of visits to the emergency room for chest pain are due to musculoskeletal issues, such as muscle strain.

What causes a pulled muscle in the chest, and what to do about it?

3. Trauma

A traumatic injury, such as a fall, a blow to the chest, or a motor vehicle accident, can damage the structures that make up the chest, as well as the heart, lungs, and other internal organs.

There may be bruising or swelling, and a person may have difficulty breathing.

It is best to seek emergency help following a chest injury. Damage to the internal organs may not be visible but can be life threatening.

4. Costochondritis and other inflammatory conditions

Costochondritis refers to inflammation of the cartilage that connects the ribs to the breastbone. It can lead to severe pain that may be worse when a person is:

  • lying down
  • breathing deeply
  • putting pressure on the chest
  • doing physical activity

Causes include:

  • intense coughing
  • a traumatic injury to the chest
  • physical strain from repeated exercise or lifting heavy items
  • respiratory tract infections
  • an infection in a chest wound
  • wear and tear

Costochondritis usually goes away on its own, but people may need extra rest, pain relievers, and hot or cold compresses to aid recovery.

Other inflammatory conditions that can lead to chest pain include:

  • rheumatoid arthritis (RA)
  • spondyloarthritis
  • systemic lupus erythematosus, or lupus

5. Rib fracture

A rib fracture is a break in the bones that protect the internal organs in the chest.

It can be very painful and lead to serious complications. One broken rib will not usually lead to complications, but multiple fractures can be life threatening.

Rib fractures usually result from a fall or blow to the chest, but severe coughing can also cause a fracture. A break on the right side can cause pain, swelling, and tenderness in that area.

What is flail chest?

6. Pneumothorax

Pneumothorax occurs when air escapes from the lung and gets into the space between the lung and the chest wall. It can lead to a collapsed lung.

This makes it difficult for the lung to expand when breathing and can cause sudden and significant pain or discomfort.

There are many possible causes, including:

  • smoking
  • conditions such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, asthma, and cystic fibrosis
  • a biopsy in the lung area
  • a blunt or penetrating trauma

Someone with this condition might also experience shortness of breath, a rapid heartbeat, and dizziness. Anyone with these symptoms needs urgent medical attention.

What is a punctured lung?

7. Pleurisy

Pleurisy is inflammation of the membranes that surround the lungs. This inflammation causes friction between these two layers of tissue.

Usually, there is a thin, fluid-filled space between the linings of the lungs and the chest cavity. When breathing in and out, the lungs glide smoothly over this tissue.

In pleurisy, the friction can lead to sharp and severe pain when breathing.

The condition can occur for various reasons, including:

  • a traumatic injury
  • pneumothorax
  • pulmonary embolism
  • conditions such as lupus, cancer, or pneumonia

The need for treatment and the prognosis will depend on the cause. A person should seek immediate medical help if they have difficulty breathing or dizziness due to low oxygen levels.

8. Pleural effusions

In pleural effusion, fluid builds up between the layers of tissue outside the lungs. It can cause chest pain and shortness of breath.

Causes include:

  • conditions such as pneumonia and tuberculosis
  • chronic conditions, such as RA and lupus
  • hemothorax
  • exposure to asbestos

Breathing may get more difficult over time, so it is essential to seek help from a doctor.

9. Pneumonia

Pneumonia is an infection of the lungs by bacterial, viral, or fungal organisms.

Symptoms include:

  • a fever and chills
  • a cough
  • changes in mental status
  • rapid heart rate

Chest pain can occur when a person is breathing and coughing. Individuals with suspected pneumonia should seek prompt medical help. Some people will need to spend time in the hospital, as the condition can result in life threatening complications.

10. Pulmonary hypertension

Pulmonary hypertension is a condition that causes high blood pressure in the blood vessels that connect the heart and lungs. Over time, this makes the heart work harder to pump blood throughout the body.

Symptoms include:

What is pulmonary arterial hypertension?

11. Pulmonary embolism

A pulmonary embolism is a blood clot that has become lodged in the lungs. It can be life threatening if a person does not receive treatment quickly.

If it occurs in the right lung, it can cause right sided chest pain.

Additional symptoms include:

  • shortness of breath
  • rapid breathing
  • increased heart rate
  • coughing, with or without blood

The pain and other symptoms of a pulmonary embolism usually come on suddenly and require emergency medical attention.

12. Lung cancer

Chest pain can occur with lung cancer and cancer that has spread to the lungs from another part of the body.

Around 20–40% of individuals with lung cancer experience chest pain.

Other symptoms include:

  • a cough
  • shortness of breath
  • spitting up blood
  • dyspnea, or difficulty breathing
  • fatigue
  • weakness
  • unexpected weight loss

What is the link between lung cancer and cough?

13. Chest tumors

Growths within the chest or chest wall, whether they are cancerous or not, can also cause chest pain.

Depending on the type of tumor, other symptoms include:

  • a lump
  • swelling
  • the chest appearing or feeling asymmetrical

As the tumor grows, it will put pressure on nearby nerves or blood vessels, causing pain or discomfort.

14. Heart disease

While most people associate left sided chest pain with a heart attack or other heart ailments, right sided pain is also possible, especially if heart disease affects the right side of the heart.

Pain due to a heart condition can affect the right shoulder or jaw as well.

15. Shingles

If a person has had chickenpox in the past, they may develop shingles later. This is because the same virus causes both conditions, and it can reactivate.

Shingles involves inflammation in a section of nerves and the surrounding area. This can lead to sensations of:

  • numbness
  • tingling
  • burning

If shingles affects nerves in the chest, it can cause chest pain. Shingles tends to affect only one side of the body.

Early symptoms include a fever with pain and sensitivity in one area. It will later develop into a painful, itchy rash.

Is shingles contagious? Find out here.

16. Heartburn, or acid reflux

Heartburn, also known as acid reflux, is when stomach acid passes back from the stomach up into the food pipe, or esophagus.

The food pipe is located in the chest, so it can cause general chest pain, including on the right side.

Other symptoms include:

  • an unpleasant taste in the mouth
  • bloating and nausea
  • a cough

Acid reflux is common, affecting around 20% of people in the United States. If it happens often, however, a person should seek medical advice. A doctor can prescribe medication to help manage it.

17. Liver, gallbladder, and pancreatic issues

These structures are important for digestion and other essential functions. They are in the top of the right side of the abdomen.

Gallstones, pancreatitis, and liver disease are just a few conditions that can lead to pain in the right side of the chest.

18. COVID-19

COVID-19 can cause a variety of symptoms, including:

  • a fever
  • a cough
  • shortness of breath

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advises that if an individual with COVID-19 experiences persistent pain or pressure in their chest, they should seek medical advice at once.

How to know whether chest pain is due to COVID-19? Find out here.

Right sided chest pain can happen for many reasons, and some require urgent care.

Signs that someone needs emergency care include:

  • a sudden onset of severe chest pain
  • crushing pain
  • persistent pain or pressure on the chest
  • chest pain with shortness of breath
  • pain that radiates to the jaw or shoulder
  • chest pain occurring with dizziness or weakness
  • change in or loss of consciousness
  • other symptoms, such as a high fever or coughing up blood

The outlook for someone having right sided chest pain will depend on the cause.

If pain persists despite treatment, it is important to continue to follow up with a doctor for further diagnosis and treatment.

Chest pain can affect the right-hand side of the body for many reasons.

Some, such as a sprain, are mild and usually go away with OTC pain relief. However, problems with the heart or lungs can also cause right sided chest pain and may have severe consequences.

Anyone with concerns about symptoms should seek medical advice.

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