What Causes Both Chest Pain and Headache?

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It can be scary to experience chest pain and a headache at the same time. The good news is that together the two symptoms usually don't indicate a serious health problem.

Although it's possible that having chest pain and headache at the same time could be the result of an urgent issue such as a stroke, more likely, your symptoms are the result of a non-life-threatening condition such as anxiety.

This article examines the causes and possible treatments of chest pain and headache, plus when to see a healthcare provider and when to call 911. 

Asian woman having headache while lying on bed

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Causes of Chest Pain and Headache 

There are several medical conditions in which both chest pain and headache could occur at the same time. 

Anxiety Disorders

Roughly 40 million adults in the United States have anxiety disorders such as phobias and generalized anxiety disorder. It's common for anxiety to trigger both chest pain and headaches. In addition, headaches can be a common side effect of some of the medications frequently used to treat anxiety, including benzodiazepines and antidepressants.

Migraine Headaches

Well-known symptoms of migraine headaches include sensitivity to noise or lights and nausea and vomiting, but chest pain, although less common, is also a known complication of migraines.

Depression 

Approximately 1 in 15 adults experience depression in any given year. People with depression are more likely to experience chest pain as well as tension headaches and migraines.

Lupus

Lupus is an autoimmune disease characterized by chronic inflammation that affects many parts of the body. Lupus can cause pleurisy, which is inflammation of the surface of the lungs, resulting in sharp chest pain when you take a deep breath. People with lupus also are more likely to suffer from headaches, although more research is needed to understand the exact link between the two conditions.

Less Common Causes

Although they aren't as common, these other conditions can also lead to chest pain and headache together: 

Serious Causes of Headache and Chest Pain

Sometimes, having chest pain and headache simultaneously indicates a more serious condition that requires medical attention.

Malignant Hypertension/Hypertensive Emergency 

Although high blood pressure (hypertension) doesn’t usually cause symptoms, having chest pain and headache at the same time could be the result of a hypertensive crisis, which is a sudden spike in blood pressure that can lead to life-threatening problems like a heart attack.

According to the American Heart Association, a hypertensive crisis is defined by a blood pressure reading of 180/120 millimeters of mercury (mm Hg) or higher that does not decrease after five minutes. Should this occurs, call 911 immediately. 

Stroke 

A sudden, severe headache is a common symptom of stroke. Some people will also experience chest pain or discomfort. Other major symptoms of stroke include:

  • Face drooping
  • Arm weakness
  • Speech difficulty
  • Dizziness
  • Sudden vision problems
  • Sudden confusion 

Call 911 if experiencing additional symptoms

It's important to seek emergency treatment if you experience headache and chest pain together with other symptoms like dizziness, vomiting, slurred speech, trouble seeing, or shortness of breath.

Subarachnoid Hemorrhage

A type of stroke caused by bleeding in the area around the brain, subarachnoid hemorrhage (SAH) can be life threatening. A common symptom is a severe headache that doesn’t feel like other headaches you’ve had before. It's also possible to experience chest pain.

Legionnaires’ Disease

Occurring in people who breathe in Legionella pneumophila bacterium, Legionnaires’ disease affects the respiratory system similar to pneumonia. In addition to chest pain and headache, other symptoms include cough, shortness of breath, and fever. Legionnaires' disease can be deadly and requires immediate medical treatment.

Diagnosing Chest Pain and Headache

To determine the cause of chest pain and headache, your healthcare provider may order diagnostic tests, including:

  • Complete blood count (CBC), which measures many aspects of your blood, including the number of red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets. A CBC can screen for a wide variety of health problems, including infections and autoimmune disorders.
  • Cardiac biomarkers, also sometimes called cardiac enzymes, which measure enzyme and protein levels in the blood to check for evidence of heart damage or other coronary conditions. 
  • Blood culture, which is used to detect disease-causing bacteria or fungi in the bloodstream.
  • Electrocardiogram (EKG or ECG), which monitors the heart's electrical activity for unusual activity. 

Summary

Having chest pain and a headache at the same time doesn't necessarily mean you have a serious medical issue. Many health conditions can cause you to have both symptoms simultaneously, including anxiety, lupus, and alcohol withdrawal.

To determine the root cause of your symptoms, your healthcare provider may order diagnostic tests such as a complete blood count or an EKG. If your chest pain and headache are accompanied by other symptoms such as face drooping, dizziness, or vomiting, seek medical attention right away. 

A Word From Verywell

Although having a headache and chest pain together isn't necessarily cause for alarm, you should never dismiss your symptoms or ignore a gut feeling you have that something isn't quite right. Because there are many underlying health conditions that can trigger these two symptoms, it's a good idea to see your healthcare provider to get an accurate diagnosis.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What are the four signs of an impending heart attack?

    Four signs of an impending heart attack are chest pain or discomfort, feeling weak or light-headed, shortness of breath, and pain or discomfort in one or both arms or shoulders. 

  • Does COVID-19 hurt your chest?

    Yes, COVID-19 can cause persistent pain or pressure in your chest as well as difficulty breathing. If you experience these symptoms, seek immediate medical care.

  • Can heart problems give you headaches?

    Yes, many heart conditions, including stroke, can cause headaches.

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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.
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By Karon Warren
Karon Warren has been a freelance writer for more than two decades, covering a range of lifestyle and business topics for print and online lifestyle and consumer publications.