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What are Chest Spasms?

Mary McMahon
By
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Chest spasms are contractions in the muscles of the chest that can cause extreme pain until the muscles release. They are usually symptoms of an underlying medical issue and there can be a number of reasons for this symptom to develop. People who experience recurrent spasms may want to consult a doctor for evaluation and should definitely mention this condition on routine medical visits, as they may be a cause for concern.

When the muscles in the chest spasm, people may experience a sensation of tightness, contraction, or pressure in the chest. The muscles can also twitch. Some patients report a fluttering sensation as the chest muscles contract. It can be difficult or painful to take a breath. The pain levels associated vary, depending on the patient and the cause, but they can be excruciating. Once the muscles release, the sensation of pain and tightness should resolve very quickly, leaving the patient feeling comfortable again.

Some causes for chest spasms can include trauma to the chest, electrolyte imbalances, neurological damage, and certain chronic conditions like asthma and fibromyalgia. People can also develop muscle pain in the chest in response to tension, anxiety, or stress. Fatigue can also be a factor, as the muscles may be depleted of nutrients and spasm in response even if the patient's electrolytes seem to be balanced. Low levels of magnesium and calcium, in particular, are associated with muscle cramps and twitches.

It can sometimes be difficult to pin down the origins of chest pain. Chest spasms can feel like a heart attack, or may be perceived in the muscles when they are actually originating in the coronary artery or esophagus. Because several conditions can cause chest pain, it is important to receive a medical evaluation for chest spasms that persist, especially if they are accompanied with nausea, dizziness, vomiting, bluing of the fingers and toes, or other symptoms that suggest poor circulation may be involved.

In a workup for chest spasms, a doctor may recommend medical imaging studies, bloodwork, and studies on heart function in addition to performing a physical examination. These diagnostic tools will check for underlying problems that might be responsible for the spasms. A thorough interview will also be conducted to find out more about when the spasms occur. Patients may find it helpful to take notes when they experience chest spasms, as these notes can be used to identify patterns and trends.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a The Health Board researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments

By anon989995 — On Mar 31, 2015

I am 42 years old. I've had a full work up. Heart cath, arteries clean and healthy. Though every now and then I get something that catches my breath. I am just relaxed and I can be talking and I felt a jump on my right side of my sternum that catches my breath. No pain, just a sudden catch of breath followed by my anxiousness and light head rush. I've explained to the cardiologist about this catchy breath feeling and he says it has nothing to do with my heart cause my heart is more to my left. So, I don't know what to do anymore and it feels like my heart. It just ruins my day. I've read so many articles on this. So many unanswered questions.

By anon305422 — On Nov 26, 2012

I'm a 47 year old female, and I have to sleep with several pillows propped up because of GERD. I cannot sleep on my left side because my heart hurts. My cardiologist said sleep on your right side.

I've had twitching before in my eye, stomach and back. This time, it's my upper left chest. It's very scary. I'm feeling a lot of twitching and fluttering. What is this?

By andee — On Sep 23, 2012

I have heard that right side chest pain can often be a symptom of someone having a heart attack. I was with my grandpa when he had a heart attack, and right before it happened he complained of having some sharp chest pains. I know some people don't have symptoms this obvious, but it was a big wake up call for him.

He ended up having heart surgery and his chest pains were from a heart attack. He was also nauseated and dizzy right before he passed out.

I think anytime you have any kind of chest pain, you should be seen by a doctor, especially if you don't know the reason why. This is something that can be life threatening and I would want to know the reasons for the pain.

By honeybees — On Sep 23, 2012

I have had asthma since I was young and many times this is exercise induced. If I overdo it I will start to get upper chest pain and tightness. I have a hard time catching my breath and have to keep an inhaler with me all the time.

While I know the reasons for my chest spasms, it still doesn't mean they are any less scary. The spasms alone can make you feel pretty uptight and I have to learn to remain calm and let the inhaler do its work.

By John57 — On Sep 23, 2012

I am a worrier, and tend to stress out too much about a lot of things. I have been so anxious before that this has caused me to have chest spasms. When this happens, I know I need to get better control over things.

The chest spasms don't last very long, but it still can't be good for me. If I am so emotionally anxious that I get sharp pains in my chest, I start by taking a few deep breaths and try to start calming down. I have also started doing some yoga, and this seems to be helping me with some of my anxiety.

By SarahSon — On Sep 22, 2012

I had heartburn so bad that I was getting chest spasms. This really scared me as I thought I was having a heart attack. I guess this is a somewhat common symptom for some people who have severe heartburn. I was very glad it wasn't a heart attack, and now take medications to help control the heartburn.

Mary McMahon

Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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