Chest pain is usually a concern for most people since the vital organs, specifically the heart and lungs, lie in this area. Problems with these organs can lead to death and sometimes this can occur within minutes. However, chest pain is not always a sign of a serious heart or lung problem.
Pain may arise from several other non-vital structures in and on the chest. Therefore pain on its own is not a reliable indicator of whether there is a serious cause or not. However, the presence of other symptoms as well as the type of pain can help to indicate source of the pain and whether it may be serious.
What does squeezing chest pain mean?
A squeezing chest pain is usually indicative of muscular pain, particularly where there are painful muscle contractions.The terms cramping and squeezing may sometimes be used interchangeably to describe this type of pain, which once again points to a muscular source in all likellihood.
Most of the time the squeezing chest pain is thought to arise from the heart because the heart is a muscular pump. However, there are various other muscles in and on the chest, including muscles responsible for body movement and muscles within organs. Therefore squeezing chest pain may not only be related to a problem with the heart.
Causes of Squeezing Chest Pain
Some of the more likely causes of squeezing chest pain are discussed below. Since chest pain may be due to serious and even life-threatening conditions, it is important to seek medical attention as soon as possible. If squeezing chest pain occurs with shortness of breath, dizziness, paleness or even a bluish tinge to the skin then it should be treated as a medical emergency.
Read more on cardiac chest pain.
Chest Wall Pain
The pectoralis muscles are the largest muscles on the chest wall but there are several other muscle pairs present. These muscles can be easily strained with exertion. Chest wall injury is more likely to lead to a bruised feeling or even a stabbing sensation rather than a squeezing chest pain. However, chest wall problems should be considered when there is superficial pain (pain on the surface).
Angina pectoris is heart-related chest pain caused by insufficient blood supply to the heart muscle. It is more likely to arise when the coronary arteries are narrowed with fatty plaques (coronary artery disease) or where the artery suddenly narrows because the tiny muscles within its wall go into spasm. It is a prelude to a heart attack and may be present for months or even years before a heart attack occurs.
Most of the symptoms resemble a heart attack as discussed below but the symptoms ease with rest and the use of nitrates.
A heart attack is where a portion of the heart muscle dies when the blood supply to the area is cut off. There is usually underlying coronary artery disease. These narrowed coronary arteries eventually become blocked completely when a clot obstructs it. This starves the heart muscle of oxygen-rich blood to keep functioning as normal. Depending on the extent of heart damage, a heart attack can result in death.
In addition to a squeezing or constricting chest pain, a person may also report:
- Pain radiating to the jaw, arm, upper abdomen or neck (usually on the left side).
- Excessive sweating
- Shortness of breath
- Dizziness and sometimes fainting
- Confusion and anxiety
Anxiety is a common and often overlooked cause of chest pain. During an anxiety attack the symptoms can mimic a heart attack. It is not uncommon for people to report to an ER convinced that they are having a heart attack although it is actually an anxiety attack. This can occur in instances where a person is facing a stressful situation or can arise spontaneously in people who have an anxiety disorder.
Asthma is where airflow is restricted due to narrowing of the bronchi. Here the bronchi may constrict when the muscles in the bronchial walls tighten. A person experiences difficulty breathing, there are abnormal chest sounds like wheezing and in severe cases a person may turn pale to blue and even faint. There may also be chest pain or discomfort which is often described as constrictive or squeezing in nature.
Esophageal spasms are where the muscles in the wall of the esophagus contract strongly. The contractions are also usually painful and the pain is often described as a squezing pain. The exact reason why these painful spasms of the esophagus occurs is not always clear. It appears to arise from the abnormal activity of the nerves that control the muscles in the wall of the esophagus.
Apart from the squeezing pain, there may also be difficulty swallowing during the time of the spasms and a person may feel like an object is stuck in the throat. There may or may not be regurgitation of food and liquid.
Acid reflux is another common condition that can cause chest pain. The stomach acid and enzymes mixed with food may flow backward up into the esophagus. This causes irritation and inflammation of the esophageal lining. It is mainly due to a failure of the lower esophageal sphincter (LES) to prevent this backward flow. Acid reflux or GERD usually causes a burning chest pain (heartburn) but sometimes this pain may feel like a squeezing sensation.
Read more on burning chest pain.
Gallstones are hard masses that form from bile in the gallbladder. When a stone becomes stuck in the gallbladder or bile ducts then a person experiences symptoms. However, these stones can pass out into the small intestine and with the stool without causing any symptoms. It can block the outflow of bile which is needed to break down fats as part of the digestive process.
Usually the pain is felt in the upper middle region of the abdomen where the gallbladder is located. This pain may be referred to the right shoulder and/or chest. Nausea, diarrhea, jaundice and a fever are other symptoms that may be present.
Certain drugs may also cause a squeezing chest pain for several reasons, such as increasing heart rate or causing agitation. This may include certain opioid painkillers and slimming pills. People with coronary artery disease or other heart-related conditions are more likely to experience side effects from using these drugs. Usually the symptoms like squeezing chest pain will resolve once the drug is stopped.