Experiencing a burning sensation in the chest and subsequent chest pain can be the result of many disorders. It often leads to discomfort, aching pain, and perhaps even a metallic taste left in the mouth. Fortunately, most of the causes of these symptoms are not severe and can easily be remedied. The first thing people often experience is a state of confusion—they don’t know why these unusual symptoms are occurring in the first place, with everything from simple heartburn to a severe heart attack running through their minds.
Chest burning or pain can be associated with more severe disorders such as coronary artery disease, angina, or even problems with the organs within the thoracic cavity, so it is always advised to speak to a medical professional about your symptoms as soon as possible to rule out any life-threatening causes.
Chest burning sensation: Heart attack vs. heartburn symptoms
People often confuse chest burning with a heart attack. While they may be similar, there are defining characteristics of each that help separate the two. The following is a summary of what you can expect to feel when having heartburn vs. having a heart attack.
- Burning sensation on the left side of the chest or behind the breastbone after eating. Symptoms may last anywhere between a few minutes to several hours
- Pain in the chest after eating, bending, or lying down
- Chest pain sometimes radiates to the shoulders, arms, and neck
- Antacids often provide relief
- Burning in chest when coughing, or having acidic, sour, hot or salty fluid taste at the back of the throat
- Difficulties swallowing
- Food stuck mid-way through the chest or throat
- A sore throat, chronic cough, or hoarseness
- Cold sweats (rare)
Heart Attack Signs (if suspected seek emergency medical treatment right away)
- Dull pressure, tightness, fullness, or pain at the center of the chest
- Feels like a belt being tightened around the chest
- Sudden pressure or chest pain that accelerates
- Pain spreading to arms, neck, and jaw
- Chest pain that responds to nitroglycerin medication
- Other symptoms such as shortness of breath, cold sweats, dizziness, or lightheadedness
Burning sensation in chest: Causes and symptoms
Burning chest pain has a multitude of different causes, and a medical test needs to be done to determine its origin. However, of the many causes, most are not life threatening and can be identified by knowing the various signs and symptoms. The following are some of the most common reasons for one to experience a burning sensation in the chest:
The inflammation of the esophagus. The tissue of the tube-like structure that carries food from your mouth to your stomach. This disorder can cause chest pain and difficulty swallowing. It has a number of different causes, such stomach acid regurgitation, allergies, and certain oral medications. The following symptoms can be expected with esophagitis:
- Acid regurgitation
- Food becoming stuck in esophagus after swallowing
- Pain in the chest behind the breastbone mostly occurring during meal consumption
- Pain when swallowing, burning sensation in chest when eating
- Difficulty swallowing
Treatment often depends on the amount of inflammation present. Over-the-counter medications and prescribed medications aid in the reduction of stomach acid, relieving the majority of symptoms. It is important to seek medical attention, however, as long standing cases can become malignant and require surgery.
Ulcers are open wounds that cause agonizing pain in whoever they affect. They can be present in any part of the digestive system and are the result of some drugs and bacterial infections—not by stress or spicy foods as previously thought. Symptoms primarily occur when stomach acid comes into contact with the ulcer and is experienced as pain with the following signs:
- Experienced anywhere between the navel and breastbone
- Increases during the night time
- Relieved temporarily by antacids or some foods that buffer stomach acid
- Disappears and then reoccurs a few weeks or days later
Peptic ulcer sufferers may also experience appetite changes, unexplained weight loss, black or tarry stools as well as vomiting of blood.
Treatment generally entails using medications that help decrease the amount of stomach acid. These include antibiotics, proton pump inhibitors, histamine blockers (H-2), and antacids. These medications allow time for the digestive tract to heal, providing relief.
This occurs due to an area of weakness found on the diaphragm, specifically in an area where the esophagus passes through (hiatus). Occasionally, the stomach herniates up though this weakened opening. Relatively small Hiatal hernias cause no problems; however, larger ones can allow acid and food back into the esophagus, giving a burning sensation in the chest. Symptoms of a hiatal hernia include:
- Black stool and vomiting of blood (possible sign of gastrointestinal bleeding)
- Feeling full after meals
- Abdominal or chest pain
- Problems swallowing
Treatment for minor symptoms may include the use of antacids, H-2 blockers, or proton pump inhibitors to reduce stomach acid. More severe cases will require surgery.
Other possible reasons for chest pain/burning are:
- Anxiety disorders
- Panic attacks
- Injury to the chest or ribs
- Costochondritis (inflammation of the rib cartilage)
- Gastroesophageal reflux disease
- Pulmonary embolism
- Respiratory infections
Complications of burning sensation in chest
Once diagnosed and treatment is underway, it is important to stick to the plan set out by your physician. If treatments or follow-ups are neglected or delayed, it may further increase the chances of complications occurring. Examples of such complications include:
- Pneumothorax (collapsed lung)
- Myocardial infarction (heart attack)
- Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
- Erosive esophagitis (inflammation of the esophagus)
- Cardiogenic shock (shock due to damaged heart muscle and ineffective cardiac function)
Treatment tips for burning chest pain
There are some lifestyle changes and home remedies you can try today if acid reflux is the main cause of the burning sensation felt in your chest.
Maintain a healthy weight: Excess pounds put pressure on the abdomen, pushing up the stomach and causing acid to travel up the esophagus.
Avoid tight fitting clothes: May put pressure on your abdomen and lower the esophageal sphincter.
Avoid foods that trigger heartburn: These may include fatty or fried foods, tomato sauce, alcohol, chocolate, mint, garlic, onion, and caffeine.
Eat smaller meals: Avoiding overeating reduces the production of stomach acid
Do not lie down after meals: Wait at least three hours before lying down or going to bed after meals
Elevate the head of the bed: The use of gravity to keep stomach acid down
Don’t smoke: Smoking decreases the lower esophageal sphincter’s ability to function properly leading to more reflux
The best you can do when experiencing a burning chest sensation is to see a doctor. They have the means of doing more in-depth tests to rule out an acute myocardial infarction or heart attack. They can perform an EKG, blood tests, and a brief physical exam to help rule out this life-threatening possibility.
For the most part, however, burning chest pain is brought on by acid traveling up the esophagus, causing pain, with the most effective treatments augmenting the amount of stomach acid you produce. They may come in the form of proton pump inhibitors, H-2 blockers, or antacid medication, and they do a relatively good job. More serious cases of gastric acid regurgitation may require surgical correction, but this is not usually the case.