We often use several common terms to describe sensations and symptoms that we experience at certain points in life. One of these is heaviness of the chest. It is a way of describing a sensation as if a weight has been placed on the chest to the point that normal chest movement is restricted and even breathing is impaired to some degree. Sometimes this sensation occurs on its own without any disruption in breathing or actual chest pain.
What is a heavy chest?
As with any other symptom, a heavy chest is a feeling that a person may experience which can at times be accompanied by chest pain, heartburn, abnormal breathing sounds all difficulty with breathing. Given that the chest contains vital organs like the heart, any sensation involving the chest is often taken very seriously. Apart from cardiac conditions, the heavy feeling in the chest can also be due to respiratory conditions or chest wall.
Due to the potential seriousness of a heavy chest sensation, it is important to consult with a medical professional as soon as possible. The presence of symptoms like a crushing chest pain, excessive sweating and dizziness requires immediate medical attention especially in people at a high risk for conditions like a heart attack. Do not attempt to self-treat and manage the condition without first consulting with a medical professional.
Other Signs and Symptoms
There may be many other signs and symptoms that accompany a heavy chest feeling. The collection of symptoms is useful for diagnosing the possible cause. These other symptoms includes:
- Difficulty breathing
- Chest pain
- Abnormal breathing sounds like wheezing
- Excessive sweating
- Nausea with/without vomiting
- Difficulty swallowing
Causes of a Heavy Chest Feeling
There are many possible causes of a heavy chest feeling that may involve either the chest wall or any of the internal organs within the chest cavity. Usually a heavy chest feeling can be ascribed to either the lungs and the airways, heart and blood vessels or the chest wall. However, it may also occur with various other causes including a pinched nerve at the back, abdominal problems such as gallbladder or pancreatic disease is and sometimes it may even be psychosomatic in nature.
Probably the condition of the greatest concern is that relating to the heart and blood vessels as these conditions can quickly become very serious and even life threatening. However, diseases of other organs such as the lungs or even the pancreas should not be underestimated. Sometimes in the more severe cases involving these organs, the condition can progress very quickly and even lead to fatal complications if the immediate medical attention is not forthcoming.
Heart and blood vessels
The more common condition that comes to mind when a sensation like a heavy chest feeling arises is whether this may be due to a heart attack. With coronary artery disease being sold rife in the developed world among adults, a heart attack is a reasonable concern. It is where the coronary arteries become blocked thereby robbing the heart wall of much needed oxygen rich blood. As a result a portion of the hard muscled thighs and if anyone’s severe at it in even leads to get.
Other conditions where there may be a heavy chest feeling include:
- Arrhythmia – irregular heart rate.
- Aortic valve stenosis – heart valve defect.
- Cardiac tamponade – fluid around the heart.
- Pericarditis – inflamed heart lining.
Lungs and Airways
The term heavy chest is commonly used to describe respiratory conditions where air flow is restricted, especially in conditions like asthma. The bronchi which carry oxygen from the trachea (food pipe) to the lungs become narrowed often due to contact with allergens or with other triggers. As a result there may be labored breathing with abnormal breathing sounds such as wheezing.
Other conditions apart from asthma where a heaviness in the chest may be felt include:
- Acute bronchitis – infection of the bronchi.
- Pneumonia – infection of the lung.
- Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) – emphysema or chronic bronchitis.
- Pulmonary edema – fluid in the lungs.
- Pleural effusion – fluid around the lungs.
The chest wall is composed of skin, muscles, tendons, ligaments, subcutaneous fat and fascia. There are also nerves, blood vessels and lymphatics in or on the inner surface of the chest wall. Injury is one of the most common chest wall causes of a heavy feeling in the chest. This can occur with a blow like in a fall, with contact sports, car accidents and an assault. Sharp force trauma is an obvious cause and there is usually severe pain.
Other conditions of the chest wall that may lead to a heavy chest feeling:
- Muscle and tendon strain, inflammation or tears usually caused by strenuous physical activity.
- Fracture – broken bones such as the sternum (breastbone) or ribs.
- Costochondritis – inflamed costal cartilages.
- Engorged breast – breastfeeding mothers.
- Shingles – infection of the skin and nerves.
A host of lifestyle factors can also contribute to chest heaviness although in these cases it is not usually related to dizziness. Very tight clothing will obviously cases a degree of restriction which may be experienced as a heavy feeling. Women with large busts and those with very tight bras may also experience a heavy chest feeling. Cigarette smoking may be another lifestyle habit that could be a cause. Sleeping on the chest is another possible cause.
There are many different conditions that could also contribute to a heavy chest feeling and this includes:
- Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) – backward flow of stomach acid.
- Gallstones – small masses that may obstruct the gallbladder duct or bile ducts.
- Pancreatitis – inflamed pancreas.
- Hiatal hernia – portion of stomach that slips into the chest cavity.
- Achalasia – problem with movement through the esophagus.
- Psychological – chest discomfort associated with anxiety, nervousness and depression.
- Wretching or severe vomiting – chest wall is strained with vomiting.
- Eating disorders – where vomiting to purge is a common practice.
- Inhalation of smoke and airborne irritants.
At times diagnostic investigations may be necessary to identify the exact cause and then commence appropriate treatment. Red flag signs like dizziness, excessive sweating and chest pain should be considered a medical emergency.