Chest pain may have many causes, but it should never be taken lightly. Although some types of chest pain are pervasive, others may occur in conjunction with a specific task, such as swallowing. Several different muscles and other parts in the throat and chest work together to produce the swallowing effect, and disruption of any of these processes can result in pain. Difficulties around the esophagus in particular can facilitate chest pain when swallowing.
The esophagus is the gateway from the throat to the stomach. As with any body part, this long tube is subject to any manner of infection, strain, or injury. Sometimes the esophagus may simply spasm, causing pain in the chest near the abdominal area. While experts have not determined what exactly causes these spasms, foods or drinks of an extremely hot or cold nature seem to be a culprit in many cases. Other similar disorders caused by abnormally moving esophagus muscles include achalasia and nutcracker esophagus.
Other areas in the chest, particularly nerves and muscles, can become inflamed, leading to chest pain when swallowing. For example, in a condition called costochondritis, the joints where ribs attach to the sternum become tender. Any movement in this area, including movement induced by swallowing, will likely cause breastbone pain. Pinched nerves may cause similar issues. Besides swallowing, other movements like breathing may cause pain.
Eating-related chest pain when swallowing is often an indicator of gastroesophogeal reflux disease (GERD). This condition occurs when acid from the stomach pushes its way into the esophagus. Food or drink intake will aggravate this process due to increased acid production. The pain may be mistaken for heartburn, and if left untreated will recur. This type of pain is often associated with burning pain in the middle of the chest, around the breastbone. Isolated bouts of heartburn can cause similar disturbances.
Chronic GERD can create esophagitis, or inflammation of the esophagus. Other causes for this particular ailment range from viral infection to irritation caused by inserting medical tubes into the throat. If anti-heartburn medications do not alleviate chest pain, an esophageal condition may be to blame. Although exceptions exist to any condition, chest pain exclusively related to swallowing is not typically indicative of a heart problem.
Chest pain when swallowing may also be found following the onset of a hiatal hernia. Unlike GERD or esophagitis, this condition results from a malfunction with the stomach rather than the esophagus. Pain in this case results when the stomach pushes into the chest past the diaphragm, the muscle that separates the throat from the lower digestive system. Eating and swallowing will likely exacerbate the pain of a hiatal hernia.
Treatments vary depending on the specific cause of the chest pain. Pharmaceuticals or surgical intervention may be required in some cases, while other conditions may alleviate with time or a simple change of diet. Any appearance of blood, breathing difficulties, or other abnormal symptoms concurrent with chest pain should necessitate an immediate visit to a medical professional, however.