Left-Side Chest Pain

Left-side chest pain has many causes. You may think of a heart attack first, but issues with your lungs or digestive system can cause left-side chest pain, too. You need medicine for many sources of left-side chest pain. For others, you may need an operation. A healthcare provider can tell you what’s wrong and put your mind at ease.


What is left-side chest pain?

Left-side chest pain can be a symptom of an issue with your lungs, heart, muscles and bones, or digestive system. Left-side chest pain from heart-related issues can be strong or sharp. It can feel like pressure. You can also have nausea, but that can go along with digestive issues that also cause chest pain. And there are lung issues that cause pain in your chest and difficulty breathing. You can also have chest pain due to injury or soreness of your muscles and bones.

A healthcare provider can help you sort it all out.

Is left chest pain a symptom of a heart attack?

Yes, left-side chest pain is one of the symptoms of a heart attack. But there are others, like shortness of breath or pain in other parts of your upper body.

If you think you’re having a heart attack, call your local emergency number.


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Possible Causes

Causes of left-side chest pain include heart, lung, digestive and other issues.
Many causes of left-side chest pain have to do with your heart or lungs. But a number of other conditions can cause it.

What are the most common causes of left-side chest pain?

Pain on the left side of your chest can come from issues with your heart, blood vessels, lungs, digestive system or other areas.

Heart and vascular issues

Issues with your heart or blood vessels often involve problems with getting blood where it needs to go. Blockages in blood vessels or weaknesses in their walls are just some of the reasons for chest pain on your left side.

  • Heart attack. Your heart muscle dies when it can’t get enough oxygen because of a blockage in the coronary artery supplying its blood. This usually presents as pain or pressure over a wide area of your chest.
  • Coronary artery disease. Cholesterol buildup can narrow and block the blood vessels that carry blood to your heart. It’s typically worse with exercise because you can’t get enough blood to the heart muscle and clogged coronary arteries. You can often relieve this with rest.
  • Coronary artery dissection. A coronary artery wall can rip, create a bulge and block your artery. This causes pressure or pain in your chest, and it could lead to a heart attack.
  • Pericarditis. An infection or other cause can start inflammation in the lining around your heart, causing a sharp pain in your chest. The pain can spread to your left shoulder and arm. The pain can be worse when you’re lying down and when taking deep breaths.
  • Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. The muscle walls of your pumping ventricles (or lower heart chambers) become thick and stiff. With this issue, you can’t get enough blood into — or out of — your heart’s chambers, and your heart has a harder time getting oxygen-rich blood. Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy usually happens because of a problem in the genes you got from your biological parents.
  • Aortic dissection. A tear can happen in the wall of your aorta, making the layers of the wall come apart from each other. This very strong pain happens without warning and feels like something is ripping. You often feel it in your chest, back and between your shoulder blades. An aortic dissection is a serious medical emergency.
  • Aortic aneurysm. Blood that pushes against a weak part of your aorta’s wall can make it bulge out. Without treatment, this weak spot can break open and cause severe pain in your chest or abdomen. If an aortic aneurysm ruptures, it’s an emergency that requires immediate treatment.
  • Mitral valve prolapse. The valve that lets blood flow between your left atrium and left ventricle may not close completely every time your heart beats. This allows blood to flow back to the chamber it just left.

Digestive issues

Some medical conditions in your digestive system can cause left-side chest pain, like:

  • Hiatal hernia. Usually for an unknown reason, part of your stomach can go through an opening in your diaphragm muscle that’s normally only for your esophagus. This reduces blood flow to your stomach. People with a hiatal hernia often have difficulty swallowing.
  • Gastritis. Stomach lining inflammation from many causes can make your lower left chest hurt. You also might feel sick to your stomach and throw up.
  • Pancreatitis. Inflammation of your pancreas can give you bad pain in your upper abdomen. It also can make you feel nauseous and throw up.
  • Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). Acid production in your stomach can reflux into your esophagus and give a burning sensation in your chest.
  • Esophageal spasm. Abnormal smooth muscle contractions of your esophagus can create a burning, squeezing feeling in your chest.

Lung issues

Medical conditions in your lungs can cause left-side chest pain. Some of these issues need quick treatment, especially if you need help breathing.

  • Pulmonary embolism. A blood clot from somewhere else in your body can get stuck in a pulmonary artery inside your lung. You’ll probably have shortness of breath, too. People with pulmonary embolism often describe sharp pain that worsens when breathing in.
  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Problems with your air sacs and/or airway lining make it difficult for you to breathe. Your chest can feel tight, and you may have shortness of breath.
  • Pneumonia. If your defenses aren’t strong enough, you can get an infection in your lungs. This infection can make either side of your chest hurt, but you’ll also have a fever, chills and a cough with mucus.
  • Pleurisy or pleuritis. An infection and/or inflammation of the membrane around your lungs causes sharp chest pain that gets worse when you cough or breathe deeply. You may also have pain in your shoulder.
  • Pneumothorax (collapsed lung). Air can get between the layers of a tissue that covers your lungs, causing part or all of your lung to collapse. Without warning, you may feel a sharp pain in your chest and possibly your neck and shoulder.
  • Pulmonary hypertension. Several disorders can cause high blood pressure in your pulmonary arteries, which take blood to your lungs to trade carbon dioxide for oxygen. You get chest pain because it’s harder for your heart to push blood through blood vessels that are narrow from hypertension.
  • Asthma. Allergens or irritants can make your airways narrow temporarily, making it hard to breathe. You may feel a tightness in your chest and also cough or wheeze.

Musculoskeletal issues

You still need medical attention for these issues that don’t involve major organs:

  • Broken rib. Accidents can make the ribs protecting your chest break. This hurts a lot, especially when you take deep breaths. It hurts for several weeks.
  • Sprained chest muscle. Injuries can create tears in your muscles that cause pain, especially when you move. You may also have swelling and bruising.
  • Costochondritis. Inflammation of the cartilage that connects your rib to your breastbone.

Other medical conditions

A prompt diagnosis and treatment are best for:

  • Shingles. The chickenpox virus you had as a child can become active again later in life, usually when you’re older than 50. As shingles, this virus causes a painful rash that shows up on the skin on your upper body. It usually develops in a certain part of your chest, and typically only on one side.
  • Lung cancer. Chest pain from lung cancer hurts more when you cough, laugh or take a deep breath.

Care and Treatment

How is left-side chest pain treated?

Healthcare providers tailor treatment for left-side chest pain to its cause. Heart issues — and even some lung issues — need emergency care. Anything that keeps blood and/or oxygen from getting to your organs and tissues can be life-threatening.


You may need medicine for conditions like:

  • Heart attack.
  • Coronary artery disease.
  • Coronary artery dissection.
  • Pericarditis.
  • Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy.
  • Aortic dissection.
  • Aortic aneurysm.
  • Mitral valve prolapse.
  • Hiatal hernia.
  • Gastritis.
  • Pancreatitis.
  • Pneumonia.
  • Asthma.
  • COPD.
  • A pulmonary embolism.
  • Pulmonary hypertension.
  • Pleurisy.
  • Shingles.
  • Broken ribs.
  • Sprained chest muscle.

Procedures or surgeries

You might need to have a procedure or operation for:

  • Heart attack.
  • Coronary artery disease.
  • Coronary artery dissection.
  • Pericarditis.
  • Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy.
  • Aortic dissection.
  • Aortic aneurysm.
  • Mitral valve prolapse.
  • Hiatal hernia.
  • Pancreatitis.
  • Pneumothorax.
  • A pulmonary embolism.
  • Pleurisy.

For lung cancer, treatment could include surgery, radiation and/or chemotherapy.

What should I do for left chest pain?

Contact a healthcare provider about pain in the left side of your chest. If you think you’re having a heart attack, call your local emergency number.

You can’t treat most causes of left-side chest pain at home. Over-the-counter medicines can help with digestive issues, but if you aren’t sure you’re having a digestive issue, those medicines may not help.

What are the possible complications or risks of not treating left-side chest pain?

Skipping treatment for left-side chest pain can put your life at risk. Any condition that keeps you from getting enough oxygen to your cells can be life-limiting. This can include lung issues like COPD or asthma, as well as heart conditions.

An aortic aneurysm can be fatal if it bursts and you don’t get help right away. Untreated gastritis can lead to sepsis or stomach cancer in some cases. Lung cancer is fatal for people who don’t get treatment.


Can left-side chest pain be prevented?

Yes, you can prevent some causes of left-side chest pain. You can prevent some heart issues with healthy habits, like:

  • Eating foods that are low in fat and salt.
  • Managing your high blood pressure, diabetes and high cholesterol.
  • Staying at a weight that’s healthy for you.
  • Avoiding tobacco products.
  • Limiting how much alcohol you drink.
  • Exercising several days a week.

Other things you can do to prevent causes of left-side chest pain are:

  • Preventing blood clots that could cause a pulmonary embolism.
  • Getting a shingles or chickenpox vaccine so you don’t get shingles.
  • Getting quick treatment for a respiratory infection that can cause pleurisy.
  • Staying away from things that cause asthma attacks.
  • Not using tobacco products, which can cause pneumonia, COPD, pneumothorax and lung cancer.
  • Not eating spicy or fatty foods that can cause heartburn.
  • Limiting your use of alcohol to prevent pancreatitis.

When To Call the Doctor

When should left-side chest pain be treated by a doctor or healthcare provider?

Call your local emergency number if you have left-side chest pain for more than five minutes and it doesn’t improve with rest or medicine.

Left-side chest pain could mean you’re having a heart attack. You may also have other signs, like:

  • Pain in your jaw, back, neck, arm, shoulder or belly.
  • Upset stomach.
  • Shortness of breath.
  • Lightheadedness.
  • A fast heartbeat.

If you have left-side chest pain that comes and goes, contact your healthcare provider as soon as you can determine the cause.

You should seek emergency treatment if you’re having difficulty breathing.

A note from Cleveland Clinic

Your mind can go to the worst-case scenario when you have left-side chest pain. But many causes of pain on the left side of your chest have nothing to do with your heart. Still, whatever’s causing your pain will most likely need medical attention. You can give yourself some peace of mind by seeing a healthcare provider. And if you think you’re having a heart attack, call your local emergency number.

Medically Reviewed

Last reviewed on 07/06/2023.

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