Chest pain can be caused by many things, from a pulled muscle to asthma. Depending on the reason for the pain, symptoms may differ but can include tightness, discomfort, coughing, wheezing, and a burning sensation. In kids, chest pain is rarely a sign of something serious, such as heart trouble.
Common causes of chest pain include:
Costochondritis (kos-toe-kon-DRY-tis): This is a painful inflammation of the cartilage that attaches the ribs to the breastbone (sternum). It's one of the most common causes of chest pain in kids and teens, affecting girls more often than boys, and usually goes away on its own without treatment. Pain medication and applying a warm compress or a heating pad (on low) to the sore area may help ease pain.
Contusions: A blow to the chest that injures the soft tissue under the skin, but does not break the skin, can cause a contusion. These can follow a fall, a car accident, bumping into something, or being hit with a ball or a fist. Pain, swelling, and bruising in the area are common. Pain medication and applying ice wrapped in a cloth for 20 minutes every 3-4 hours for 2 days can help.
Gastroesophageal reflux (also called gastroesophageal reflux [GER] and gastroesophageal reflux disease [GERD]): After nearly all meals, someone with GERD has heartburn (acid indigestion), which feels like a burning sensation in the chest, neck, and throat as acidic stomach contents move backward into the esophagus. It can affect babies, kids, teens, and adults. Treatment depends on the type and severity of the symptoms, and might include dietary modifications, medications, and lifestyle changes.
Tietze disease: This swelling and pain in the joints where the upper ribs attach to the breastbone (sternum) can cause a sharp, stabbing pain in the chest that makes some people think they're having a heart attack. But Tietze disease is rarely a serious condition. It's sometimes caused by an injury to the chest, repeated coughing, or physical strain from heavy lifting or exercise. Treatment usually focuses on reducing pain until the condition clears up on its own.
Keep in Mind
Most causes of chest pain in kids and teens are not cause for concern and will clear up with minimal or no treatment. But call the doctor if chest pain is accompanied by trouble breathing or rapid breathing, a racing heart, dizziness or fainting, chest pressure, or blue or gray color around the lips.
All A to Z dictionary entries are regularly reviewed by KidsHealth medical experts.