Chest pain can cause a feeling of tightness or a burning sensation in the chest. Sometimes it can happen along with coughing or wheezing. It’s rarely a sign of something serious in kids.
What Causes Chest Pain?
Common causes of chest pain include:
- Costochondritis: This is a painful swelling and irritation of the cartilage that attaches the ribs to the breastbone (sternum). It's one of the most common causes of chest pain in kids and teens and affects girls slightly more than boys.
- Contusions: A blow to the chest that injures the soft tissue under the skin, but does not break the skin, can cause a contusion. These can follow a fall, a car accident, bumping into something, or being hit with a ball or a fist. Pain, swelling, and bruising in the area are common.
- Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD): Kids with GERD have heartburn (acid indigestion) after most meals. This feels like a burning sensation in the chest, neck, and throat. It happens because acidic stomach contents move backward into the esophagus.
- Tietze disease: Swelling and pain in the joints where the upper ribs attach to the breastbone can cause a sharp, stabbing pain in the chest. This can make some people think they're having a heart attack. But Tietze disease is rarely a serious condition. It's sometimes caused by an injury to the chest, repeated coughing, or physical strain from heavy lifting or exercise.
How Is Chest Pain Treated?
Most of the time, chest pain goes away with little or no treatment.
Costochondritis usually goes away on its own. But it can help to give over-the-counter pain medicine and apply a warm compress or a heating pad (on low) to the affected area.
For a contusion or Tietze disease, giving pain medicine can ease symptoms until the area heals. Apply a cold compress to a contusion. To do this, wrap ice in a cloth and apply it to the area for 20 minutes every 3–4 hours for 2 days.
Kids with GERD may need to make diet or lifestyle changes to ease symptoms. Some make also need to take medicine.
What Else Should I Know About Chest Pain?
Most of the time, chest pain in kids and teens isn’t serious. But call the doctor if chest pain happens with trouble breathing or rapid breathing, a fast heartbeat, dizziness or fainting, chest pressure, or a blue or gray color around the lips.
All A to Z dictionary entries are regularly reviewed by KidsHealth medical experts.