Why Do I Have a Burning Sensation in My Chest?

For most, it's heartburn, but there are other causes

A burning sensation in your chest can have a number of causes, with heartburn being the most common.

Heartburn causes a burning sensation in the chest that may move up to your throat. It can be a symptom of a condition such as acid reflux, gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), or simply a side effect of something you ate.

Other causes of a burning sensation in your chest include anxiety, inflammation in the body, and certain medical conditions involving the heart, lungs, and intestines. 

Most of the time, symptoms of burning in the chest are not due to a heart-related condition. However, if you have other symptoms like pressure, tightness, or a squeezing sensation in your chest, seek emergency care right away.

This article will look at common causes of burning in the chest, potentially life-threatening causes, and treatment options.

Shot of a young businesswoman holding her chest in pain while working in an office.

Moyo Studio / E+ / Getty Images

Common Causes of a Burning Sensation in the Chest

The most common causes of a burning sensation in the chest are not serious and include:


Researchers estimate that in about 50% to 60% of cases, non-cardiac chest pain is caused by heartburn, a burning sensation in the chest that occurs after eating.

Heartburn can be caused by eating certain "trigger" foods and beverages. It can also happen if you lie down or bend over shortly after eating.

Caffeine, along with food that is spicy or high in fat, can cause heartburn. Other causes include smoking, obesity, and pregnancy. 

Acid Reflux

Acid reflux, also called gastroesophageal reflux (GER) is a condition that occurs when stomach acid backs up into the esophagus. Acid can make its way into your throat when the lower esophageal sphincter (LES) fails to close properly.

Heartburn is the most common symptom of acid reflux.


Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is a chronic form of GER. This digestive disorder occurs when triggers like spicy foods, high caffeine intake, obesity, and smoking cause repeated bouts of gastrointestinal reflux. When gastric juice backs up into the esophagus, it causes damage to the lining of the esophagus, which can result in a burning sensation in the chest. 

Other common symptoms of GERD include:


Esophagitis occurs when injury or irritation causes inflammation of the cells that line your esophagus. Additional symptoms of difficulty and pain while swallowing may accompany your chest pain. Gastroesophageal reflux is the most common culprit of erosive esophagitis. Other causes include:

Stomach Ulcers

Peptic ulcers are sores that develop in the lining of the stomach or the duodenum, the first portion of the small intestines. They can cause gnawing abdominal pain as well as a burning sensation in the chest. Peptic ulcers often produce symptoms that are hard to distinguish from angina, trauma, or a heart attack.


Anxiety attacks, or panic attacks, are episodes of intense fear and emotional distress that can strike suddenly and without warning. They can last several minutes or for as long as an hour and can be triggered by a wide range of factors. Stress is the most common cause but others include:

  • Substance misuse
  • Caffeine
  • Pre-existing health conditions
  • Social events
  • Reminders of traumatic events 

This heightened anxiety can lead to chest pain. This is because stress triggers the body to produce fight-or-flight hormones (cortisol), which can lead to physiological changes such as a racing heartbeat and muscle tightness in the chest.

Other symptoms that may accompany a panic attack include: 

  • A rising sense of dread or danger
  • A sense of detachment
  • A sense of losing control
  • Fear of death
  • Shortness of breath
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Headache
  • Sweating
  • Numbness and tingling in your hands or feet


Asthma is a chronic lung disease that occurs when your lung vessels narrow, making it harder for air to move into and out of the lungs. Chest discomfort may be a presenting symptom of asthma. It is usually described as a feeling of pressure, tightness, pain, or a burning sensation in the chest.

The most common symptoms of asthma are:

  • Coughing
  • Wheezing (a whistling sound when you breathe)
  • Shortness of breath

Life-Threatening Causes of Chest Pain

While the occasional burning sensation in your chest is not usually life-threatening, it can sometimes be a symptom of a serious condition requiring immediate medical care.

Heart Attack

A burning sensation in the chest can sometimes be a sign of a heart attack (and may be misdiagnosed as one at first). If the burning sensation is accompanied by the following symptoms, seek emergency care immediately:

  • Squeezing or pressure sensation, especially pain that gets worse or radiates to the left side of the body
  • Pain that travels to your jaw, neck, shoulders, arms, or back
  • Shortness of breath
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Lightheadedness
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Sweating (especially profuse sweating in a cool area)
  • Racing heartbeat

Risk Factors for a Heart Attack

A heart attack is more likely to be the possible explanation of your symptoms if you have risk factors including include:

  • Older age
  • Obesity
  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol levels
  • A family history of heart disease


Any traumatic injury to the chest that impacts the chest wall muscle, diaphragm, and ribs can cause damage to the lungs, heart, and other vital organs.


Infectious diseases, such as the reactivation of the shingles virus (herpes zoster) can also injure muscles in the chest. This can potentially cause a burning sensation.

Pulmonary Embolism

The main symptoms of a pulmonary embolism (a blood clot in the main artery leading to a lung) include chest pain that is sharp, stabbing, or burning. The pain caused by a pulmonary embolism is often localized under the breastbone or on one side of the body and worsens on deep breathing.

Treatment For Burning Chest Pain

Treatments for burning chest pain are based on the underlying cause.

If the cause of your symptoms is heartburn, for example, taking antacids and acid blockers can reduce stomach acid production and help to resolve your symptoms.

Home Remedies for Heartburn

When paired with dietary and lifestyle changes, certain home remedies for heartburn have been found to be effective in some people:

  • Honey
  • Ginger
  • Baking soda
  • Licorice
  • Turmeric
  • Apple cider vinegar

If the cause is asthma, using an inhaler and limiting your exposure to environmental triggers might work best.

In stressful situations, you may use a deep breathing technique or leave a stressful situation if you sense heightened anxiety. No matter the case, treating the underlying cause is usually the most effective means of resolving your chest burn.

In order to accurately diagnose the cause of the burning sensation in your chest, a healthcare provider may ask you the following questions:

  • When did your chest burning start and how long have you felt this sensation?
  • Has your chest burning sensation changed over time?
  • Can you tell me about any specific triggers that bring about your chest burn?
  • Do you have any other symptoms?
  • Does anything relieve or worsen the burning sensation?
  • What medications are you taking?


Since GER and GERD are the most common causes of a burning sensation in your chest, it’s important to know what steps to take to avoid it. GERD is highly preventable without the need for medication if you are willing to make a few lifestyle changes. The following strategies may prevent these two conditions:

  • Lose weight if necessary. Extra abdominal fat places pressure on your abdomen, pushing gastric juices up into your esophagus.
  • Avoid trigger foods. Spicy foods, onions, chocolate, caffeine, and junk food have all been shown to increase the prevalence of GERD.
  • Don’t lie down after eating. Gravity helps digestion. When you lie down, stomach acid is more likely to flow upward into the esophagus. 
  • Eat food slowly and chew thoroughly. More food in the stomach can mean more acid buildup. Eating smaller meals and small portions can decrease acid reflux.
  • Avoid tight-fitting clothing. 
  • Quit smoking. Nicotine relaxes the esophageal sphincter, allowing acid to enter.
  • Limit alcohol. Like smoking, alcohol can relax the LES.
  • Elevate your bed. Elevating the entire top half of your body, not just your head, 6 to 8 inches means that gravity is reintroduced, resolving the backflow of stomach acid into the esophagus. 
  • Avoid carbonated beverages. They can make you burp and may bring acid up along with the gas. 


A burning sensation in your chest is usually caused by a non-life-threatening medical condition. This is often due to heartburn or GERD, with diet and lifestyle changes playing a key role in reducing your symptoms. Heartburn isn't life-threatening, but it can signal the presence of larger health issues that should not be dismissed.

You should seek prompt medical care if your chest burning sensation is accompanied by worrisome signs, persists for more than a few hours despite treatment, or causes you concern. A healthcare professional can help you to rule out the possibility of heart attack, pulmonary embolism, or stroke. 

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How long does it typically take for chest pain to go away?

    The time it takes for chest pain to go away depends on the cause of your chest pain, but non-lethal causes of chest pain usually resolve on their own or with self-administered treatment, such as using an inhaler for asthma, within an hour (but usually much sooner than that).

11 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Johns Hopkins Medicine. Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)

  2. American College of Gastroenterology. Non-cardiac chest pain.

  3. American Academy of Family Physicians. Familydoctor.org. Heartburn.

  4. National Library of Medicine. MedlinePlus. Acid reflux, heartburn, and GERD: What's the difference?

  5. Grossi L, Ciccaglione AF, Marzio L. Esophagitis and its causes: Who is "guilty" when acid is found "not guilty"?. World J Gastroenterol. 2017;23(17):3011-3016. doi:10.3748/wjg.v23.i17.3011

  6. American Lung Association. What is Asthma?

  7. Goldhaber SZ. Pulmonary embolism. In: Zipes DP, Libby P, Bonow RO, Mann DL, Tomaselli GF, Braunwald E, eds. Braunwald’s Heart Disease: A Textbook of Cardiovascular Medicine. 11th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2019:chap 84.

  8. Schulz RM, Ahuja NK, Slavin JL. Effectiveness of nutritional ingredients on upper gastrointestinal conditions and symptoms: A narrative reviewNutrients. 2022;14(3):672. Published 2022 Feb 5. doi:10.3390/nu14030672

  9. Math MV, Khadkikar RM, Kattimani YR. Honey--a nutrient with medicinal property in refluxIndian J Med Res. 2013;138(6):1020-1021

  10. U.S. National Library of Medicine: MedlinePlus. Sodium bicarbonate.

  11. Harvard Health. 9 ways to relieve acid reflux without medication.

By Shamard Charles, MD, MPH
Shamard Charles, MD, MPH is a public health physician and journalist. He has held positions with major news networks like NBC reporting on health policy, public health initiatives, diversity in medicine, and new developments in health care research and medical treatments.