Chest pain on the left side is often due to muscular injury, but it can also indicate a heart attack, a lung problem, or inflammation of the lining around a person’s heart.

Chest pain on the left side can occur for many reasons. This may include underlying heart, digestive, or lung conditions. It could also be due to a muscular injury. If a person suspects the chest pain may be due to a heart attack, it is advisable to receive immediate medical attention.

This article will cover the potential causes and symptoms of chest pain on the left side.

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It can be difficult to identify whether chest pain is a sign of a heart attack.

However, there are three indications that chest pain may not be a heart attack:

  • Specific location: If pain is coming from one particular place, it is not likely to be a heart attack.
  • Worsening pain: Chest pain associated with a heart attack does not get worse with breathing.
  • Varying locations: Chest pain associated with a heart attack may spread between the shoulder blades, and into the arms and jaw, but it does not move from one side to the other.

Is it a heart attack?

Heart attacks occur when there is a lack of blood supply to the heart. Symptoms include:

  • chest pain, pressure, or tightness
  • pain that may spread to arms, neck, jaw, or back
  • nausea and vomiting
  • sweaty or clammy skin
  • heartburn or indigestion
  • shortness of breath
  • coughing or wheezing
  • lightheadedness or dizziness
  • anxiety that can feel similar to a panic attack

If someone has these symptoms:

  1. Dial 911 or the number of the nearest emergency department.
  2. Stay with them until the emergency services arrive.

If a person stops breathing before emergency services arrive, perform manual chest compressions:

  1. Lock fingers together and place the base of hands in the center of the chest.
  2. Position shoulders over hands and lock elbows.
  3. Press hard and fast, at a rate of 100–120 compressions per minute, to a depth of 2 inches.
  4. Continue these movements until the person starts to breathe or move.
  5. If needed, swap over with someone else without pausing compressions.

Use an automatic external defibrillator (AED) available in many public places:

  1. An AED provides a shock that may restart the heart.
  2. Follow the instructions on the defibrillator or listen to the guided instructions.
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Acid reflux and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) are common causes of left-sided chest pain.

These conditions occur when acid comes up from the stomach into the esophagus. The result is a burning sensation across the chest that may occur on one side or the other.

Other symptoms may include:

  • difficulty or pain when swallowing
  • a sour taste in the mouth
  • sudden excess of saliva
  • belching
  • sore throat

Also known as an esophageal perforation, this describes a tear or hole in the esophagus. This is a medical emergency that may cause non-cardiac chest pain.

The condition occurs when the tube that connects the mouth to the stomach tears. This enables food or fluids from the mouth to leak into the chest and around the lungs. Sometimes a person may experience this type of injury after extreme vomiting or experiencing physical trauma around the esophagus.

Other symptoms of an esophageal rupture can include:

  • faster or labored breathing
  • fever and chills
  • vomiting
  • difficulty swallowing
  • low blood pressure and rapid heart rate
  • air bubbles under the skin

There are many types of injury to soft tissue or bones in the chest that can cause left-sided chest pain. An example could be a broken rib or costochondritis, which is inflammation of the cartilage surrounding a rib.

If a person has experienced some form of trauma, such as a fall or a car accident, these injuries may lead to chest pain.

Some signs that a musculoskeletal injury has occurred include:

  • hearing or feeling a cracking sensation related to the ribs
  • pain that usually worsens when breathing
  • swelling or tenderness at a specific area
  • visible bruising

Pericarditis is a medical condition that results from inflammation in the pericardium, which is the tissue that holds the heart.

The layers usually glide against each other effortlessly, allowing the heart to beat. However, if the layers become inflamed, a person may experience left-sided chest pain, particularly when breathing in. Some people might describe the pain as a dull ache or pressure in their chest.

Additional pericarditis symptoms can include:

  • fever
  • coughing
  • weakness
  • fatigue
  • heart palpitations or occasional rapid heart rate
  • leg swelling
  • shoulder pain, as well as chest pain
  • shortness of breath

While the exact cause of pericarditis is often unknown, it may occur after a respiratory or digestive system infection, or as a result of an autoimmune condition.

Pleurisy is a condition where the tissues around the lungs become inflamed. This can cause a sharp pain in the chest, especially when breathing.

Other symptoms may include:

  • coughing
  • shortness of breath
  • pain that worsens with coughing, sneezing, or moving
  • pain in the shoulder

Pleurisy may develop if a person experiences lung inflammation due to flu, pneumonia, or tuberculosis. Other possible causes may include certain cancers, chest trauma, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, and blood clots.

A pneumothorax is also known as a collapsed lung or a punctured lung.

This can occur spontaneously, collapsing a small portion of the lung or the lung in almost its entirety.

In addition to chest pain, other symptoms of a pneumothorax may include:

  • becoming easily fatigued
  • blue or ashen skin
  • a rapid heart rate
  • shortness of breath
  • shallow breathing

If the pneumothorax is very large, a person may require the insertion of a chest tube to re-inflate the lung and help keep it open while the lung heals.

Left-sided chest pain has many potential causes.

A doctor will consider a person’s medical history and symptoms when making a diagnosis. A doctor may also perform a physical examination on the chest, heart, lungs, neck, and abdomen.

After the physical exam, a doctor may order a variety of tests, including:

Treatments for left-sided chest pain will depend upon the underlying cause.

For gastrointestinal pain such as GERD, the treatment typically includes medications, including proton pump inhibitors, H2 blockers, and promotility agents.

Treatment for pericarditis or pleurisy may involve administering antibiotics if the inflammation is due to a bacterial infection. Additionally, a healthcare provider may advise resting until the tissue lining has had time to heal.

A person may require surgery to treat pneumothorax and esophageal ruptures.

Chest pain on the left side can occur for many different reasons. Typically, pain on the left side will be due to heart, digestive, or lung problems. However, if a person can pinpoint chest pain on their left side and the pain does not worsen, it is less likely that a heart attack is the underlying cause.

Although, several conditions other than a heart attack may still be medical emergencies, such as esophageal rupture and pneumothorax. If a person’s symptoms are severe or they are having trouble breathing, they should seek immediate medical attention.

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