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6/22/23 blog post

when to be concerned about chest pain

young girl with chest pain

in this article:

Chest pain is a common complaint among adults, but it is less frequently reported in children. However, when a child does complain of chest pain, it can be alarming for parents and caregivers. While most instances of chest pain in children are not serious, there are some instances where the symptoms may be a sign of a more significant issue.

what are the most common causes of chest pain in children?

A variety of things can cause chest pain in children, ranging from mild and non-life threatening to more serious conditions. Below are some of the most common causes of chest pain in children:

  1. Musculoskeletal pain: This is the most common type of chest pain in children. Strained of pulled muscles, often from physical activity or sports-related injuries, can cause chest pain that gets worse with movement or deep breathing.
  2. Respiratory infections: The common cold, bronchitis and pneumonia can cause inflammation in the airway as well as coughing and congestion. Each of these symptoms can contribute to chest pain or discomfort.
  3. Gastrointestinal issues: Digestive problems can disguise themselves as chest pain in children. Conditions like gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), cause stomach acid to flow back into the esophagus, creating a burning sensation in the chest. Other gastrointestinal conditions like gastritis, peptic ulcers or esophageal spasms can also lead to chest pain.
  4. Anxiety or stress: Anxiety, stress or panic attacks can also cause chest discomfort or a feeling of tightness. These symptoms are usually not associated with any underlying heart or lung problems.
  5. Heartburn: Kids can get heartburn, just like adults. Heartburn can cause a burning feeling or discomfort in the chest area and is often mistaken for heart-related pain.

In some cases, chest pain in children may be associated with more serious conditions, although they are less common. These can include heart-related issues like structural abnormalities, pericarditis (inflammation of the membrane around the heart), or even a heart attack (extremely rare in children). It is important to consider these possibilities, especially if the chest pain is persistent, severe or accompanied by other concerning symptoms.

how can I make sure my child's chest pain is not a heart problem?

If your child is experiencing chest pain and you are concerned about the possibility of a heart problem, start by scheduling an appointment with your child's pediatrician as soon as possible. During the appointment explain the symptoms your child is experiencing and any accompanying factors, such as length of time, intensity, triggers and any associated symptoms like difficulty breathing.

Based on your pediatrician's initial assessment, they may recommend further testing or a referral to a pediatric cardiologist for specialized evaluation. You can also schedule an appointment online with a pediatric cardiologist at Dayton Children's.

It is important to remember that chest pain in children is often due to the non-cardiac causes listed above, but it is important to seek medical attention to get an accurate diagnosis and treatment.

when should I seek medical attention for my child?

Chest pain in children is a concerning symptom that should not be ignored. While most instances of chest pain in kids are not serious, there are some instances where it could be a sign of a more significant issue.

If your child is experiencing any of the following symptoms and chest pain, seek emergency care:

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Dizziness or fainting
  • Fever
  • Occurs during physical activity
  • Chest pain that persists

If at any point in your child's care it is recommended that your child be seen by a specialist in cardiology, you can schedule an appointment online.