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The Feeling of a Tight Chest: What's Normal, What's Not?

Medically reviewed by John Paul Abrina, MD · Oncology · Davao Doctors Hospital

Written by Fiel Tugade · Updated Jul 08, 2022

    The Feeling of a Tight Chest: What's Normal, What's Not?

    There are several reasons as to why people suffer from chest pains. Some may experience a stabbing feeling in their chest, while others may feel it as a tight chest. Whatever may be the root cause behind this uneasy feeling, one thing remains true – it is not something you should neglect, and it should be addressed right away.

    What is Chest Tightening?

    Chest tightening refers to any discomfort a person of any age group experiences between the lower neck and upper belly. It can be felt across the whole chest region or just concentrated in one or more parts of the chest. Some people describe this sensation as a tight chest, chest pains, chest discomfort, or chest pressure. 

    The tight chest feeling may feel different for every person. It may be caused by many different diseases, ailments, and circumstances. In terms of frequency, some people may experience irregular chest pains. Others, especially those who take in too much caffeine or those who have anxiety attacks, may find themselves experiencing this sensation regularly. 

    Signs and Symptoms of Chest Tightening

    There are quite a number of signs and symptoms of a tight chest depending on the root cause of the condition. It is often accompanied by other symptoms like the following.

    Some of the common ones are:

    Respiratory symptoms

    • Coughing and wheezing (with or without phlegm)
    • Flared nostrils

    Digestive symptoms

    • Abdominal pain
    • Nausea/ vomiting
    • Indigestion

    Other prevalent symptoms for a tight chest are:

    • Stress and anxiety
    • Panic attacks/ feeling of fear
    • Palm sweating

    Possible Causes of a Tight Chest

    Most people assume chest tightness to be a heart attack. However, it can be due to other various factors, which include but are not limited to issues involving 

    • Respiratory (lung)
    • Gastrointestinal (digestive system)
    • Psychological (emotional) factors
    • Infection
    • Injuries

    Cardiovascular (Heart) Problems 

    Myocardial Infarction (M.I. or Heart Attack)

    A heart attack, however comparable to angina, is a more severe, crushing pain that occurs in the center or left side of the chest and is not eased by rest. The pain may be accompanied by sweating, nausea, shortness of breath, or acute weakness.

    Coronary Artery Disease (CAD)

    This is a disease in which a blockage in the heart’s blood arteries prevents blood and oxygen from reaching the heart muscle. Angina is a type of pain caused by this. It is an indication of heart disease, although it usually doesn’t result in chronic heart damage. However, it can be an indication of a possibility of a future heart attack. 


    This is a condition wherein the sac around the heart becomes inflamed or infected. It can induce pain that is like angina. However, it frequently results in a strong, constant discomfort in the upper neck and shoulder muscles. When you breathe, swallow food, or rest on your back, it can get worse.

    Respiratory (Lung) Problems 


    When asthmatic patients are subjected to allergens, the muscles in their airways constrict and narrow, resulting in tight chest, pain, and pressure. Some of the most common symptoms are coughs, shortness of breath, and wheezing. They are normally treated with the use of inhalers to alleviate the feeling. 

    Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)

    Chest tightness is likely to occur to those who have COPD. You may also feel like something is wrapped around your chest even when you are at rest.

    Pulmonary Hypertension (PH)

    This is a chronic respiratory illness in which the arteries carrying blood from the heart to the lungs constrict. The symptoms of PH are shortness of breath from ordinary activities, weariness, dizziness, and a tight chest when the heart is strained.

    Gastrointestinal (Digestive) Problems

    Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)

    This is a condition that occurs in your digestive tract. When stomach acid goes up the esophagus, the tube that connects your mouth and stomach causes heartburn.

    Psychological (Emotional) Problems


    This is a common condition in which people do experience chest tightening and other several symptoms such as rapid breathing, heart pounding, muscle tightening, nervousness, or even difficulty in breathing.

    Infectious Diseases


    This is a viral infection that causes chest discomfort for most people. Those who have contracted this particular virus also experience some mild symptoms like from Pneumonia (dry cough, fever, and shortness of breath). 

    When to seek medical attention

    Chest tightness may develop in relation to other signs and symptoms, which may signal a critical or life-threatening illness like a heart attack. Immediately seek help from a doctor if you are feeling any of the following kinds of tight chest:

    • Burning
    • Squeezing
    • Recurring/ long-lasting pain
    • Difficulty in breathing and/or shortness of breath
    • Cold sweating
    • Pain spreading to several parts of the body 
    • Nausea and Vomiting

    Suppose you have any background or history of any heart ailments in the family. In that case, it is also advised that you call your medical doctor right away.

    Learn more about Symptoms here



    Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

    Medically reviewed by

    John Paul Abrina, MD

    Oncology · Davao Doctors Hospital

    Written by Fiel Tugade · Updated Jul 08, 2022

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