Chest pain: Common causes and symptoms in elderly

chest painChest pain can have a variety of causes, some more serious than others. Hence, it’s important to spot accompanying symptoms so you can narrow in on your cause and reduce the risk of complications.

Chest pains are often associated with the heart issues, but they also can be a sign of lung, gastrointestinal, bone, muscle, and nerve problems, too.


In order to narrow in on the cause of your chest pains, it’s important to consider a few things – namely, quality, intensity, duration, and location. For some, chest pains can feel like a stabbing sensation while others may experience a dull pain. For some, the pain may be localized, while others experience radiating pain. These clues can shed light on possible causes of your chest pain and whether you require immediate medical attention.

Common causes of chest pains

As mentioned, heart problems is one of the most common causes of chest pain. There are many heart problems that can trigger chest pain, including:

  • Coronary artery disease – blockage of blood vessels reduces blood flow
  • Heart attack – reduced blood flow damages the heart muscle, which begins to die
  • Myocarditis – inflammation of the middle layer of the heart wall (myocardium)
  • Pericarditis – inflammation or infection of the sac-like tissue around the heart
  • Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy – genetic disease of the heart muscle in which the heart grows abnormally thick
  • Mitral valve prolapse – a heart valve fails to close properly
  • Coronary artery dissection – a tear develops in the coronary artery

Aside from the heart, there are other causes of chest pains you may not be as familiar with, including lung problems, gastrointestinal problems, as well as bone, muscle, and nerve problems.

Lung problems that can result in chest pains include:

  • Pleuritis – inflammation or irritation of the lining of the lungs
  • Pneumonia or lung abscess
  • Pulmonary embolism – when a blood clot makes its way to the lungs
  • Pulmonary hypertension – high blood pressure in the lung arteries
  • Asthma

Gastrointestinal problems include:

  • Gastroesophageal reflux disease – known as GERD or acid reflux – stomach contents moves back up from the stomach into the esophagus
  • Esophageal hypersensitivity – the esophagus becomes very sensitive due to changes in pressure or exposure to acid
  • Esophageal rupture or perforation
  • Peptic ulcer
  • Hiatal hernia
  • Pancreatitis
  • Gallbladder problems

Bone, muscle, or nerve problems include:

  • Rib problems – a fractured or injured rib can result in chest pain and can even be painful to touch
  • Muscle strain – due to excessive coughing or overworking of the muscles
  • Shingles – caused by the varicella zoster virus, common among seniors

Chest pains include stress and anxiety, and can be accompanied by dizziness, sweating, dizziness, and shortness of breath.

Symptoms that may occur with chest pains

fibromyalgia vs chronic fatigue syndromeAs you can see, chest pains can be a symptom for many different conditions, so it’s important that you recognize the other symptoms that accompany chest pain in order to narrow down on a diagnosis.

Heart-related symptoms:

  • Chest pressure or tightness
  • Shortness of breath
  • Back, jaw, and neck pain
  • Fatigue
  • Lightheadedness
  • Dizziness
  • Abdominal pain
  • Nausea
  • Pain during exertion
Other accompanying symptoms of chest pain:

  • Sour or acidic taste in the mouth
  • Pain when swallowing
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Pain that worsens or improves with body position
  • Pain that worsens when breathing deeply or coughing
  • Pain accompanied by a rash
  • Fever
  • Aches
  • Chills
  • Runny nose
  • Cough
  • Feelings of panic or anxiety
  • Hyperventilating
  • Back pain radiating from the chest

When to see a doctor for chest pains


If chest pain begins suddenly and is not relieved by medications, you should see a doctor right away. If any of the above heart-related symptoms are experienced with chest pain, also see a doctor right away.

Emergency personnel should be called immediately if your pain is sudden, you feel tightness or crushing in your chest, you experience shortness of breath, you are nauseous, dizzy, and your heart rate is increasing, or your blood pressure or heart rate are very low.

Related: How to avoid chest pain while running

Author Bio

Emily Lunardo studied medical sociology at York University with a strong focus on the social determinants of health and mental illness. She is a registered Zumba instructor, as well as a Canfit Pro trainer, who teaches fitness classes on a weekly basis. Emily practices healthy habits in her own life as well as helps others with their own personal health goals. Emily joined Bel Marra Health as a health writer in 2013.


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