Oct 23, 2018, 9:50:12 AM CDT Feb 23, 2023, 3:56:52 PM CST

What causes chest pain in children?

A Children's Health cardiologist helps parents navigate the difference between heart pain and chest pain

Doctor listening to little boys heart while his mom stands next to them. Doctor listening to little boys heart while his mom stands next to them.

If your child complains of chest pain, you may feel alarmed or concerned about your child's heart. But according to Colin Kane, M.D., pediatric cardiologist at Children's Health℠ and Associate Professor of Pediatrics at UT Southwestern, there are many possible causes of chest pain in children.

"Chest pain in children is common. However, heart causes of that pain are very uncommon," Dr. Kane explains. "It's natural and understandable that parents immediately begin to worry when their child complains of chest pain. Thankfully, it's rare for a heart condition to be causing that chest pain."

Dr. Kane shares the most common sources of chest pain and when parents should talk to their pediatrician.

What could cause chest pain in a child?

"There are many different causes of chest pain," says Dr. Kane. "We are often able to eliminate the heart as a cause of pain just from talking with children and understanding where in the chest and when they feel the pain."

Common causes of chest pain in children include:

  • Musculoskeletal disorders: Chest pain in children is most often caused by irritation of the chest wall or the musculoskeletal system, including costochondritis (inflammation of cartilage that connects the ribs to the breastbone).
  • Asthma: Asthma can cause tightness in the chest that can feel like chest pain.
  • Heartburn: Another common source of chest pain is heartburn or acid reflux. This is especially common when children complain of pain or discomfort during or after meals and snacks.

When should I be concerned about chest pain in my child?

"A heart attack or heart disease causing chest pain in children is extremely rare," Dr. Kane emphasizes. "However, it's still important that if you are concerned about chest pain, talk to your child's pediatrician. A provider who knows your child well can help get to the bottom of the cause, or refer your child to a cardiologist."

Dr. Kane does encourage parents to be on the lookout for any of the following red flags when it comes to chest pain:

  • Chest pain during intense exercise
  • Chest pain accompanied by fainting
  • Irregular heart rate with chest pain
  • Unusual shortness of breath for exercise level
  • Fever or recent illness

While these symptoms are rare, you should seek immediate medical attention if your child experiences chest pain with these red flags.

"It's never wrong to have your child's doctor evaluate chest pain that is concerning you," Dr. Kane reminds parents, "Talk to your primary care provider or pediatrician to find the source of pain and come up with a plan to address your child's discomfort and pain."

Learn more

The nationally renowned team of pediatric cardiologists and subspecialists at Children's Health treat the whole spectrum of pediatric heart problems, with a commitment to excellence. Learn more about our programs and treatments.

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cardiology, fainting, heart, heart health

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