Tightness or heaviness in the chest can result from various mental and physical health conditions, including stress, muscle strain, and lung complications. It can also be a sign of a heart attack.

People often associate a heavy feeling in the chest with heart problems, but this discomfort can be a sign of anxiety or depression.

A feeling of heaviness is one way that a person may describe chest pain or discomfort. Other sensations that a person with chest pain may experience include:

  • tightening
  • crushing
  • squeezing
  • aching
  • burning
  • stabbing

This article explores 13 causes of a heavy feeling in the chest and ways to treat them.

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Anxiety disorder is a mental health condition that causes a person to feel worried, apprehensive, and tense. It can also cause many physical symptoms.

Experiencing anxiety can lead to a heavy or tight feeling in the chest. Other physical symptoms of anxiety include:

  • muscle tension
  • sweating
  • shaking
  • a rapid heartbeat
  • fast breathing
  • dizziness
  • nausea
  • pins and needles

Learn more about chest pain and anxiety.

A panic attack involves experiencing many of these symptoms at once. Panic attack symptoms feel intense and overwhelming.

If a person has not had a panic attack before, they may mistake their symptoms for those of a heart attack.

Experiencing a panic attack can make a person feel like they are in physical danger, but these attacks are not physically harmful. Symptoms usually pass after 10–20 minutes.

If a person has panic attacks often, they may have a type of anxiety disorder called panic disorder.


When chest heaviness or tightness is a symptom of anxiety or a panic attack, it is important to get help for the underlying condition.

People can often manage depression and anxiety through a combination of medication and talk therapy.

Lifestyle changes and stress-management techniques can also help. These include:

  • getting enough regular physical activity
  • yoga
  • mindfulness
  • meditation
  • eating a healthful, balanced diet
  • getting enough quality sleep
  • journaling
  • seeking emotional support from family and friends

In some cases, a doctor might recommend medication such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and serotonin and noradrenaline reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs).

Learn about identifying panic attacks and anxiety attacks.

Depression is another psychological cause of a heavy feeling in the chest. A 2017 study found a link between having depression and experiencing recurrent chest pain.

A person with depression may experience physical symptoms because depression affects how people feel pain. One theory is that this is because depression affects the neurotransmitters that govern both pain and mood.

People with depression may also experience chest heaviness due to an increase in perceived stress.

Unexplained aches and pains accompanied by feeling low, hopeless, guilty, or worthless may be a sign of depression.


Treatment for depression may include a combination of self-help, antidepressants, and talking therapy.

A doctor will typically recommend cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), which can help an individual understand how they feel and how to manage their thoughts and feelings.

Chest pain may result from intercostal muscle strain, which can happen when a person overstretches and pulls the muscle that holds the ribs in place.

Straining the intercostal muscles may put pressure on the ribs and cause a heavy feeling in the chest.


Pain-relieving medication, rest, and compresses can heal the strain over time.

Learn more about pulled muscles in the chest.

Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is a digestive disorder that can cause chest pain.

GERD occurs when stomach acid comes back up toward the esophagus. As well as chest pain, it may cause:


Lifestyle and dietary changes can help prevent symptoms of GERD. These can include:

  • maintaining a moderate weight
  • avoiding smoking
  • sleeping with the head elevated

Over-the-counter (OTC) and prescription medications may also help. These can include:

  • antacids
  • H2 blockers
  • proton pump inhibitors

Pericarditis is a heart problem that may cause chest pain.

The pericardium is the name of the layers of tissue surrounding the heart. Pericarditis may occur when the pericardium becomes infected and swells. Other causes include:

  • autoimmune conditions
  • metabolic abnormalities
  • trauma
  • malignancy
  • medication

When swollen, the pericardium may rub against the heart, causing chest pain. The pain typically gets better when a person sits upright and leans forward, and worse when they lie down.


A doctor may prescribe medication to reduce inflammation. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) can also help provide relief from symptoms.

Angina can cause a feeling of pressure in the chest. It happens when the heart muscle does not get enough blood, and it is a symptom of coronary artery disease.

As well as chest pain, angina may cause pain in the:

  • back
  • neck
  • arms
  • shoulders
  • jaw


Medication can often reduce symptoms of angina. Medications to manage angina can include:

  • beta-blockers
  • nitrates
  • calcium channel blockers

A doctor may also recommend medications to reduce the risk of a heart attack or stroke. These include:

  • antiplatelet medications
  • anticoagulation medications
  • statins

Sometimes, surgery is necessary to treat an underlying condition.

Chest discomfort is one symptom of a heart attack. During a heart attack, a person’s chest may feel:

  • heavy
  • pressurized
  • squeezed
  • full
  • painful

Other heart attack symptoms include:

  • pain in the neck, jaw, arms, back, or stomach
  • shortness of breath
  • a cold sweat
  • dizziness
  • nausea

A heart attack is a medical emergency, so anyone who suspects that they are having one should seek immediate medical care.


Heart attack requires emergency treatment, which may include medication and surgery.

A person’s doctor can also advise on ways to reduce the chance of another heart attack. These can include:

  • making changes to the amount of physical activity a person gets
  • managing stress
  • quitting smoking
  • consuming a healthful, balanced diet

Pneumonia can cause chest pain that worsens when a person coughs or breathes deeply.

It is a complication of the flu and other respiratory infections. Other symptoms of pneumonia include:

  • shortness of breath
  • a cough
  • fever
  • chills


Rest and medication can help treat the infection. A person may require hospital treatment for pneumonia if symptoms are severe.

A partial or completely collapsed lung may cause a person’s chest to feel heavy and painful.

Known as pneumothorax, a collapsed lung happens when air collects in the space between the lungs and the chest wall. Pneumothorax can occur on its own, as a complication of lung disease, or with trauma.

As well as chest pain, a person with a collapsed lung may experience shortness of breath.


Treatment for a collapsed lung focuses on releasing the trapped air. In mild cases, the lung may re-inflate on its own over several weeks, though a person may need supplemental oxygen during this time.

In more severe cases, a medical professional may perform a fine needle aspiration or insert a chest tube into the chest cavity. This will allow them to release the extra air.

A heavy or painful feeling in the chest may be a sign of a pulmonary embolism. This is when a blockage occurs in the pulmonary artery, or the artery in the lung.

The blockage is usually a blood clot. In rare cases, it can be made up of other substances, such as part of a tumor or an air bubble.

The blockage can cause other symptoms, such as:

  • lightheadedness
  • severe difficulty breathing
  • a fast heartbeat
  • passing out


A pulmonary embolism is a medical emergency and can be life-threatening without treatment.

A person may receive blood-thinning drugs, oxygen, and pain relief in the hospital. Surgery may also be necessary in rare cases.

Learn about chest pain after a pulmonary embolism.

If a person has pain where their breastbone meets their ribs, they may have costochondritis.

Also known as chest wall pain, costochondritis occurs when the cartilage between the rib and the breastbone becomes inflamed. The pain may feel worse when a person touches the area.


Costochondritis typically improves on its own over a number of weeks or months. Pain-relieving medication such as NSAIDs can help relieve symptoms of costochondritis.

A buildup of cholesterol or bilirubin can form masses, known as gallstones, in the gallbladder.

Gallstones do not always cause symptoms, but if they block a person’s bile ducts they can cause chest pain. Doctors refer to this as a gallbladder attack.

A person usually feels gallbladder attack pain in the upper right abdomen. The pain is often sharp and sudden, but it can feel like dull, heavy cramping.


Treatment may not be necessary if gallstones do not cause any symptoms.

However, gallbladder attacks may require hospital treatment. This can include a cholecystectomy, which is surgery to remove the gallbladder.

Sudden chest pain may result from an aortic dissection.

The aorta is the main artery that comes from the heart. An aortic dissection occurs when the wall of the aorta tears.


This is a medical emergency and requires immediate treatment.

Depending on the location of the dissection and the presence of complications, a person may require surgery for aortic dissection. They may also need to take beta-blockers or other medications to help control blood pressure.

People who have anxiety or depression may recognize a heavy feeling in the chest as a symptom of their condition. In this case, it is not usually necessary to contact a doctor every time symptoms occur. However, they may wish to contact their doctor to discuss their current treatment plan.

As chest heaviness and pain have many causes, it is best to contact a doctor when new symptoms happen for the first time or if chest pain worsens.

Anyone experiencing sudden, unexplained, severe chest pain should contact emergency services.

Here are some frequently asked questions about heaviness in the chest.

How do I get rid of heaviness in my chest?

Treatment for a heaviness in the chest will depend on the cause. If it is due to a temporary condition such as muscle strain, resting and taking pain relief medication may help. In some cases, a person may require medication or surgery to treat an underlying condition.

A person’s doctor can diagnose the cause of chest heaviness and advise on a suitable treatment plan to help relieve symptoms.

How do you know if your chest pressure is serious?

Accompanying symptoms can help determine whether chest pressure is serious. For example, a heart attack can also cause symptoms such as shortness of breath, dizziness, a cold sweat, and pain in other areas. A pulmonary embolism can also cause breathing difficulties, as well as a fast heartbeat and passing out.

However, a person should not self-diagnose the cause of chest pressure. They should contact their doctor or seek immediate medical care if they experience sudden, worsening, or unexplained chest pressure.

There are many possible causes of a heavy feeling in the chest. It can happen due to mental health conditions such as anxiety or depression. Other possible causes include GERD, pericarditis, angina, pneumonia, collapsed lung, costochondritis, and gallstones.

In some cases, chest pain or a heavy feeling in the chest can be a medical emergency. Conditions such as heart attack, pulmonary embolism, and aortic dissection require immediate treatment.

It is best to contact a doctor for advice if a person begins to experience a heavy feeling in the chest, or if a recurrent heavy feeling in the chest worsens. If it comes on suddenly, a person should seek immediate medical advice

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