Why Do I Have Chest Pain on My Left Side?

Chest pain can be a confusing symptom, and it is one that should not be ignored. It may mean something as simple as acid reflux, or it could indicate a significant and dangerous problem like cardiac disease. For this reason, chest pain and chest tightness should be taken seriously.

Chest pain, also known as angina, may manifest as a variety of symptoms, including chest pressure or tightness. Many people describe their chest tightness as a squeezing sensation, causing significant enough discomfort to take notice.

If you are feeling any chest pain, pressure, or tightness, be sure to see your healthcare provider right away. They can diagnose your chest pain and be sure you get the correct treatment.

This article will explore left-sided chest pain and help you understand its various causes. It will help you to determine if your chest tightness and pressure are a major problem and what you should do about them.

Woman touching chest in pain


Symptoms of Left-Sided Chest Pain

Chest pain symptoms come on in a variety of ways. Symptoms may include:

  • Sharp or stabbing pain in the left side of your chest
  • Squeezing sensations in your chest
  • Left shoulder and arm tightness
  • Burning in your chest or shoulder
  • Left-sided jaw pain
  • A feeling of fullness in your chest

These symptoms may come on gradually or suddenly, and they may occur after activity or during rest. The pain may be accompanied by other symptoms, such as shortness of breath, sweating, or nausea.

When It’s an Emergency

If you have chest tightness or pressure, it may not always be a sign of a heart attack or another critical problem. However, it may be something serious that requires swift medical attention.

Signals from your body that accompany chest pressure or left-sided chest pain and may indicate an emergency include:

If you have any of these symptoms, you must see your healthcare provider right away or visit your nearest emergency department. Time is of the essence. Chest pain can be a sign of heart disease, and you must get medical attention to avoid significant problems.


There are several possible causes of chest pain and pressure. Some of these may be orthopedic problems (involving the musculoskeletal system), and some may be related to your digestive system. Chest tightness and pain may be a signal that something is wrong with your heart or lungs. For this reason, all chest pain should be taken seriously and never ignored.


Your heart is surrounded by a thin, saclike structure called the pericardium. Pericarditis is a swelling or inflammation of this structure. Chest pain is one symptom of pericarditis. The pain is usually worse with lying down or coughing and better with sitting or leaning forward.

Other symptoms that accompany the chest pain or tightness may include:

  • Fever
  • Cough
  • Swelling in the legs
  • Heart palpitations
  • Shortness of breath
  • Swelling of your abdomen

Pericarditis is a medical emergency. If you suspect it, you must see your healthcare provider right away.

Panic Attack

Sometimes anxiety or stress can cause a panic attack and can lead to chest tightness and pressure. This may be accompanied by feelings of worry, anxiety, or sadness. You may also notice some shortness of breath, but in general you should not feel physically unwell or have a fever.

Acid Reflux

Sometimes gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), also known as acid reflux, can cause chest pain and tightness. These symptoms come on gradually and typically after having a meal with a trigger food for reflux. Symptoms are not life-threatening, and they are usually much better with over-the-counter or prescription medication for reflux.

Heart Attack

A heart attack, or myocardial infarction, is a serious problem that requires swift medical attention to treat. This occurs when the flow of blood to your heart is stopped. Your heart tissue will struggle to work properly, and a tight, squeezing sensation may be felt in your chest, left shoulder, jaw, or left arm.

Symptoms of a heart attack are typically, but not always, accompanied by shortness of breath, nausea, or sweating. If there is any evidence that you may be having a heart attack, you need to get medical attention right away. The cause of your heart attack can be determined, and the correct treatment can be started to help save your cardiac muscle and, potentially, your life.

Cervical Radiculopathy

Believe it or not, some chest pain and left arm pain can come from your neck in the form of cervical radiculopathy. Pain in your chest may be due to a pinched nerve from a bulging disk or arthritis in your neck.

Cervical radiculopathy typically causes pain that changes with your position. As you move your neck or change your posture, the pain may decrease or intensify. The pain may also lessen with anti-inflammatory medication.


Since chest pain and pressure can be caused by a host of different problems, diagnosing it can be challenging. When reporting to your healthcare provider with chest pain, you will receive a clinical examination in order for your provider to determine how to best diagnose the condition.

Common diagnostic tests for chest pain or tightness may include:

If the results of these tests indicate that a cardiac issue is causing your chest pain, further testing may be done in order to determine the severity of your problem. A stress test may be performed to challenge your cardiac tissue and assess your heart function, or a cardiac catheterization may be performed to visually examine your heart's vessels.

If a cardiac problem is ruled out as a cause of your chest pain, then other tests may be done—including a cervical MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) scan or nerve conduction tests—to rule out other diagnoses. Standard practice is to err on the side of caution by ruling out serious causes and then performing other tests to determine less serious causes.


The treatment you get for chest pain depends upon the results of your diagnostic testing, such as:

  • If your chest pressure is caused by a cardiac issue: Medication may be used to help decrease your episodes of chest discomfort and to ensure that your heart is working properly. If your cardiac issues are not improving with medication, surgery may be recommended. Valve replacement, stent placement, or bypass grafting may be done to ensure your heart has adequate blood perfusion to continue to work properly.
  • If it's caused by digestive problems: If digestive issues are causing your chest pain, changes to your diet may be recommended to keep stomach acid to a minimum. Medicine may be used to inhibit GERD, and surgery may be needed for severe cases. Surgery involves repairing a small sphincter that separates your stomach from your lower esophagus, preventing stomach acid from traveling to your esophagus.
  • If the cause is cervical radiculopathy: Cervical radiculopathy may cause chest and arm pain and is often caused by a pinched nerve. Working with a physical therapist can help decrease your pain and relieve pressure from the nerve. Epidural steroid injections or surgery may also be performed for severe cases that do not get better with conservative measures.
  • If the cause is a panic attack: If a panic attack has caused your chest pain, then working to reduce your anxiety is a good idea. A counselor, psychologist, or therapist can help with that. Sometimes medication may be used to help control your episodes of anxiety.


Chest pain is a symptom that should not be ignored. It may occur due to a cardiac, digestive, orthopedic, or neurological problem. Diagnosis of chest pain and pressure involves several tests to rule in or out a specific pathology, and treatment often includes lifestyle changes, medication, or surgery.

A Word From Verywell

Chest pain can be a scary symptom, and ignoring it can be a devastatingly bad choice. If your chest pain or pressure is from a heart attack, death can result. But, most episodes of chest pain are easily managed; the trick is performing the right tests for successful diagnosis and then treating the right pathology.

If you have chest pain, pressure, or tightness you should see your healthcare provider right away. They can help determine the cause of your problem and recommend the best treatment. That way, you can quickly get back to your normal lifestyle with minimal or no episodes of chest pain.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How can you tell if chest pain is muscular?

    Muscular chest pain typically changes when you alter your position. As you move your arms or shoulders, muscular chest pain may hurt a little worse, and it is often relieved or stopped by rest. Muscular chest pain is often not accompanied by other symptoms like nausea or shortness of breath.

6 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.
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  2. Harvard Health Publishing. Chest pain: A heart attack or something else?.

  3. Wertli MM, Dangma TD, Müller SE, et al. Non-cardiac chest pain patients in the emergency department: Do physicians have a plan how to diagnose and treat them? A retrospective study. PLoS ONE. 2019;14(2):e0211615. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0211615

  4. Cedars Sinai. Pericarditis.

  5. Chiabrando Juan Guido, Bonaventura Aldo, Vecchié Alessandra, et al. Management of acute and recurrent pericarditis. Journal of the American College of Cardiology. 2020;75(1):76-92. doi:10.1016/j.jacc.2019.11.021

  6. Brown NJ, Shahrestani S, Lien BV, et al. Spinal pathologies and management strategies associated with cervical angina (Pseudoangina): a systematic reviewJournal of Neurosurgery: Spine. 2021;34(3):506-513. doi:10.3171/2020.7.SPINE20866

By Brett Sears, PT
Brett Sears, PT, MDT, is a physical therapist with over 20 years of experience in orthopedic and hospital-based therapy.