Chest pain in men can have a variety of causes, from cardiovascular problems to digestive problems. Any chest pain is a good cause to seek medical attention. Chest pain may not end up having a serious cause, but it is better to be safe and have heart conditions ruled out by a doctor for sure.
A heart attack, also known as a myocardial infarction, is caused by a blood clot that cuts off circulation to part of the heart muscle. Men are more likely to experience chest pain before or during a heart attack and exhibit the “classic” symptoms of a heart attack, including chest pain, referred pain in the arms, neck, abdomen or back, shortness of breath, sweating, dizziness and nausea. A man having a heart attack usually experiences some of these symptoms; they don’t all have to occur at once to indicate a heart attack. The sooner that a person who is having a heart attack recognizes their symptoms and seeks medical attention, the better the prognosis for the patient.
Chest pain can be caused by other circulatory conditions besides a heart attack, including angina, coronary spasm, pericarditis, myocarditis, and aortic dissection.
A person with atherosclerotic plaques that develop and narrow the arteries may have chest pain due to decreased blood flow to the heart. If these plaques occur in the coronary arteries that supply the heart muscle itself, this is called coronary artery disease. The pain that occurs due to decreased blood flow is called angina pectoris, and this pain may feel like pressure, tightness, heaviness, squeezing or pain. Coronary spasm occurs when the coronary blood vessels that supply the heart muscle contract, causing angina pectoris. Angina is a symptom of a heart problem; anyone who is experiencing angina pectoris pain should get their heart checked by a doctor.
Pericarditis and myocarditis are inflammation of the sac around the heart and the heart muscle itself, respectively. Aortic dissection is a serious condition that affects the aorta, the largest blood vessel in the body. Blood leaks between the different layers of the aorta and becomes trapped. Aortic dissection can result from uncontrolled hypertension or trauma and it requires immediate medical treatment. The symptoms of aortic dissection, such as chest pain and dizziness, may be similar to symptoms of other heart problems, but aortic dissection may also cause sudden loss of consciousness and a different pulse reading for each arm. Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy is a problem with the heart muscle that can result in chest pain. It is often due to chronic hypertension. As the heart works harder to pump blood through blood vessels that are constricted due to atherosclerosis (decreased elasticity), over time it will grow larger and larger, becoming hypertrophic.
Chest pain in men is often caused by digestive problems, such as heartburn. Heartburn occurs when stomach acid flows back up into the esophagus. The stomach is protected from its own acid by a mucus-based lining, but the esophagus is vulnerable to damage by stomach acid. This is known as acid reflux. Heartburn gets its name because it can feel like chest pain associated with heart problems due to its location. The pain can be relieved with over-the-counter antacids, but if it is a frequent problem, different treatments are required. Prescribed medications can help prevent acid reflux and heal acid damage to the esophagus. Other digestive conditions that may cause chest pain include: smooth muscle spasms in the esophagus, problems with the valve between the esophagus and the stomach, gallstones, inflammation of the gall bladder and inflammation of the pancreas.
Gallstones and gall bladder inflammation are fairly common compared to the other conditions listed; gallstones can cause a lot of pain if they are large or if they block the bile duct. Pancreatitis is a serious condition that can cause abdominal or chest pain along with fever, jaundice, nausea and digestive problems. If the valve between the esophagus and stomach is not functioning properly, stomach acid may leak into the esophagus or it may be more difficult for food to get from the esophagus to the stomach. Similarly, muscle spasms in the esophagus make the process of swallowing difficult and may cause pain.
Because the lungs are situated in the chest cavity, lung problems can cause chest pain as well as respiratory symptoms, such as coughing or shortness of breath. Pleurisy is pain that occurs due to inflammation of the pleura, the membranous sac that surrounds the lungs. Pleurisy can be caused by bacterial or viral infections such as pneumonia or autoimmune conditions that affect the lungs, as well as a few less common causes such as lung cancer or lung trauma. Pleurisy most often takes the form of a sharp pain that occurs when a person breathes in deeply or coughs. Pleurisy is a symptom, not a disease in itself, and it can be treated by treating the underlying cause of the pain. Chest pain due to lung involvement may also be caused by conditions such as pulmonary hypertension, a collapsed lung, asthma attacks or a blood clot in the lungs called a pulmonary embolism. Pulmonary hypertension is high blood pressure that affects the lungs. Although a collapsed lung is rare, it is a possible source of chest pain. Asthma attacks involve chest pain and difficulty breathing due to inflammation of the airways of the lungs. A pulmonary embolism is a blood clot that forms and then travels to the lungs, blocking off the blood supply to the lungs.
Chest pain can also be caused by a variety of other conditions. Inflammation of the cartilage of the ribs and sternum can cause chest pain in the front of the chest; this is called costochrondritis. Pulled muscles and muscles that are sore due to chronic pain disorders like fibromyalgia can cause chest pain. Muscles are frequently pulled when a person uses improper lifting techniques or does not warm up properly before working out. The chances of pulling a muscle decrease if the muscle is stretched properly before heavy physical exertion. Broken ribs, bruises along the rib cage and pinched nerves are also causes of chest pain. Pain from shingles, a viral infection that causes extremely painful blisters, can sometimes occur in the back and chest area. Cancerous tumors in the lungs or chest cavity may sometimes cause chest pain.
Lastly, panic attacks caused by anxiety may cause chest pain. Some people who have a panic attack for the first time go to the hospital because they think they may have had a heart attack. When chest pain is involved, it is better to be safe and get it checked out. In addition, panic attacks that are severe or recurring can also be treated medically with certain medications, therapy or a combination of both.