Tingling is a sensation that is not always clearly defined. It is technically not pain nor is it itching which are two sensations associated with injury and irritation. Furthermore sensations ike tingling may often arise without any clearly identifiable problem. A tingling sensation may be felt anywhere in or on the body, like tingling in the arm which is a common sensation with overuse of the arms or neck problems. Sometimes it arises in crucial areas of the body, like the chest, and may be a sign of serious diseases.
What does tingling in the chest mean?
Tingling is a mild prickling to stinging sensation that often feels like there is minor shaking in the affected area. It may be used interchangeably with prickling, stinging and “pins and needles” to describe the specific sensation. All of these sensations are known as paresthesias. However, these sensations must be differentiated from pain, especially when it comes to the chest. Chest pain should always be investigated as soon as possible.
A paresthesia is usually a sign of a nerve problem. These sensations may be abnormally generated and felt in specific locations depending on which nerve is affected. Normally sensations like pain signal the body of tissue damage but with paresthesias the sensation may not be indicative of tissue damage. However, this does not mean that paresthesias should be ignored altogether.
Sometimes normal nerve activity may be exacerbated or distorted and there is not always a clearly identifiable reason. Gentle touch may feel like tingling and even pain. These conditions are known as hyperesthesia and are often temporary. However, if it occurs repetitively then it needs to be investigated as it may be an early sign of some underlying disorder or disease, particularly of the nervous system.
Causes of Chest Tingling
The same causes of chest pain should also be considered as possible causes of chest tingling. This may involve the chest wall or affect deeper organs within the chest cavity. Some of the possible causes of chest tingling have been discussed below but there are other causes that may have to be considered by a medical professional.
When any chest sensation, whether pain or tingling, is accompanied by shortness of breath and dizziness then it is important to immediately seek medical attention. These could be symptoms due to serious and life-threatening conditions like a heart attack.
Compression of a nerve that supplies the organs and structure of the chest can cause a tingling sensation in the chest. This may be seen more commoly with pinched thoracic nerves but can also sometimes arise with cervical nerve problems.
These are the nerves that arise from the spinal cord at the level of the throacic vertebrae or cervical vertebrae, respectively. This nerve compression is also commonly referred to as a pinched nerve. It may arise with conditiosn like degenerative disc disease, herniated disc, spinal stenosis, bone spurs and even tumors.
Shingles is a condition where the chickenpox virus (varicella zoster) becomes reactivated after years or decades following the chickenpox virus. It then causes inflammation of the certain nerves where it may have lay dormant for long periods of time prior.
The nerves supplying the chest wall are often affected. The sensations like tingling, burning and pain are usually accompanied by a rash that is isolated to specific bands where the nerves run. These bands are known as dermatomes. The rash is typically red, itchy and tiny blisters arise on the skin surface.
Other Neuralgias and Neuropathies
Neuralgia refer to nerve pain and is often associated with associated with nerve inflammation (neuritis). The term neuropathy is a broad term to describe all types of nerve problems. Apart from a pinched nerve discussed, there are many other possible causes of neuralgia and neuropathy.
Infections, injury, nerve damage in conditions like diabetes neuropathy, autoimmune nerve conditions like multiple sclerosis and chemicals (including drugs and heavy metal poisoning) can all affect nerve functioning. It may also give rise to paresthesias which may account for a tingling sensation in areas supplied by these nerves.
Read more on chest nerve pain.
A stroke is another possible cause of chest tingling. The tingling sensation is usually not isolated to the chest area only. Typically symptoms like tingling and numbness extend across an entire half of the body – head, face, arms and legs. There is also accompanying weakness or paralysis of the affected side.
Strokes arise when the blood flow to a portion of the brain is interrupted. When this interruption is temporary and there is no permanent damage to brain tissue, then symptoms may arise and resolve in episodes known as transient ischemic attacks (TIAs). However, with a stroke there is death of a portion of this brain tissue.
Not all heart conditions may immediately present with a typical central chest pain. Sometimes there are uncharacteristic sensations like tingling. This may occur with conditions like angina pectoris, a heart attack, carditis or pericarditis. Shortness of breath, dizziness and arm pain may accompany the tingling and chest pain.
Angina pectoris is often related to coronary artery disease. There is periodic symptoms when the blood flow to the heart is insufficient as may occur during periods of physical and psychological stress. It may eventually progress to a heart attack where a portion of the heart muscle tissue dies due to the impaired blood supply.
Carditis is a broad term to refer to inflammation of the heart. It may affect the inner lining (endocarditis) and valves, middle muscular layer (myocarditis) or involve the outer layer and surrouding sac (pericarditis). This may occur due to various causes like viral or bacterial infections.
The esophagus runs through the chest cavity and conditions affecting it may result in chest tingling. The main condition that may be the cause of chest tingling is acid reflux. It usually causes heartburn – a burning chest sensation – as a result of the acidic stomach contents irritating the esophageal wall.
However, this burning sensation may sometimes be perceived as a tingling in the chest particularly in milder cases of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). Sometimes certain foods may irritate the mouth, throat and esophagus and cause an itching or tingling sensation.