What Causes Pain Under Your Breast Bone?

Chest pain can be worrisome, and pain under your breast bone may make you think the problem is with your heart, as breast bone Is in the middle of your chest and brings together the left and right side of your ribs. Your heart is slightly to the left, and underneath is your stomach, pancreas, lungs, and diaphragm. Pain can be related to any of these organs, or even the ribs themselves. This article explains some of the more common causes of this condition, when to contact your doctor, and things you can do about it.

Causes of Pain Under Breast Bone

There are several reasons you may be having pain under your breast bone. A sudden onset of chest pain of any nature should be evaluated right away by a doctor. If a heart condition has been “ruled out” then here are some of the other things that may be causing it:

1. Reflux or GERD

Sometimes the muscle that closes off the esophagus can weaken. This allows some of the stomach acids to slip through. Symptoms of reflux include heartburn (especially when lying down at night), chest pain, belching, and indigestion. It is common in pregnancy, middle aged and older adults. However, it can affect anyone at any age. GERD is made worse by eating greasy foods, spicy foods, chocolate, coffee, and acidic foods.

2. Gallstones

Gallbladder disease and gallstones can cause a pain that radiates from the right upper abdomen to under the breastbone. It is caused by the bile released from the liver forming stones. They can get lodged in the digestive tract, causing severe pain after eating a fatty meal or drinking coffee.

3. Pancreatitis

Pancreatitis is inflammation of the pancreas, the digestive organ responsible for producing insulin and digestive juices. It lies just above the stomach and under the lower rib cage. Pain can radiate to the breastbone and around to the back. Risk factors include gallbladder disease, excessive alcohol intake, autoimmune disease, and pancreatic cancer.

4. Costochondritis

Costochondritis is inflammation of the muscles between the ribs. It is a chronic condition that comes and goes. The pain can be anywhere on the rib cage, but most commonly felt at the junction where the ribs attach to the breastbone. A classic sign of costochondritis is pain when the chest wall is pushed on.

5. Angina

Angina is related to the heart, but not a heart attack. It happens when the blood flow to the blood vessels is lower than it should be. This can be a chronic condition that happens occasionally, but could be a sign of increased risk for heart attack. It shouldn’t be ignored and needs close monitoring by a physician.

6. Pneumonia

Pain under breast bone could be related to pneumonia, an infection in the lungs. This needs to be evaluated and treated right away to prevent complications. Other symptoms include cough, shortness of breath, fever, fatigue, and weakness. It is diagnosed with a chest X-ray and usually follows an upper respiratory illness like flu.

7. Pulmonary Embolism

A pulmonary embolism is a blood clot to the lungs. It is a medical emergency. It is caused by a blood clot traveling from the lower body that gets lodged in the lung tissue. Other symptoms include difficulty breathing, sharp stabbing chest pain, irregular heartbeat, and feeling faint.

8. Heart Attack

A heart attack usually causes pain on the left side of the chest, but in some instances cause pain under the breast bone or in the upper back. Chest pain from a heart attack can radiate other places like the center of the chest, down the arm, into the jaw, and to the back. It is caused by the blood supply being completely cut-off to the heart. This causes a portion of the heart muscle to “die-off” causing the pain. Other symptoms include shortness of breath, crushing feeling to chest, feeling of doom, irregular heartbeat, sweating, and severe weakness. If you have any of these symptoms, chew one aspirin and call 9-1-1.

When to Worry/Contact Your Doctor

Pain under breast bone should be evaluated by a doctor if it is something you have never experienced. If it is accompanied by the symptoms above for pulmonary embolism or heart attack, it is a medical emergency. Do not wait to see if it goes away, call 9-1-1.

What You Can Do About It

Important Note: if you have any of the above symptoms of a heart attack, pulmonary embolism, pneumonia, get emergency medical care. If you have been cleared of these serious conditions by a doctor, you can try these things at home:

  • Stretching Exercises. Try opening up your chest area by doing some arm stretches. Raise your hands above your head, then bring them down and stretch them out to your sides. With palms facing forward, and arms shoulder height, push them back as far as you are comfortable. Then return them to your sides and repeat as many times as you can.
  • Dietary Changes. If you suffer from reflux or gallstones, try to eat a low-fat diet. Avoid spicy and greasy foods, and lower your caffeine intake. Try to eat 6 small meals a day and don’t get overfull to avoid too much acid production in your stomach.
  • Elevate Your Head.  If you suffer from reflux, sleep with your head elevated at night. This will reduce the likelihood of acid coming back up into the esophagus at night.
  • Warm Compresses. If pain under breast bone is a rib issue, you can try warm compresses to the area. Use a warm moist towel, and not a heating pad to this area. Leave on until the towel cools, reheat and reapply.
  • Deep Breathe and Cough. This won’t treat pneumonia, but it can prevent it. Deep breathing and coughing is important if you are inactive, confined to bed due to illness or have other health conditions that can cause pneumonia. Take a deep breath in and cough as hard as you can. Do this every two hours when confined to bed.
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