Could My Chest Pain Have Anything to Do with COVID?
Heartburn, palpitations, pain...when it comes to the chest and heart, any kind of discomfort feels like potentially bad news. And now that COVID has become so prevalent, that adds yet another item to the long list of possible chest-pain-related concerns. While COVID can certainly be worrisome, researchers have now had enough time to investigate at least a few of the links between chest pain and COVID.
We’ll start exploring those links below, including:
- If I notice chest pain, should I be worried about COVID?
- What should I do about my chest pain?
- What can I do to prevent chest pain?
If I notice chest pain, should I be worried about COVID?
General aches and pains, including chest pain and tightness, can be among the symptoms of COVID, but chest pain doesn’t automatically mean you’re infected with COVID. Before worrying about COVID though, make sure your chest pain can’t be chalked up to other heart problems, as some of those can be quite urgent.
Signs your chest pain might be serious
Chest pain can be a cause of concern in its own right. Don’t underestimate it — if you have any concerns at all about what you’re feeling, call 911 right away. Heart attacks and heart problems can often manifest as pain that feels very present and pressing and can vary with your activity levels, sometimes subsiding before returning. This kind of pain often feels:
- Sharp or tight
- Full of pressure
In some cases, intense pain can radiate outward from your chest to your neck, shoulders, and arms. Some people get sweaty, feel dizzy, want to vomit, or have trouble breathing. If your chest pain seems to match that description at all, get help by calling 911 right away.
Symptoms of COVID and COVID-related chest pain
Your chest pain may, indeed, be related to a current or previous COVID infection. Other signs that can indicate a potential COVID infection include:
- Trouble breathing
- A sore throat
- A runny nose
- Vomiting or nausea
- Chills or fever
- Losing your sense of taste or smell
If that sounds like what you’re going through, check with your primary care team to rule a COVID-19 infection in or out. Up to a third of COVID patients may experience some form of chest pain, often accompanied by coughing or other respiratory trouble.
Myalgia (or muscle soreness)
Myalgia has been clinically observed with some COVID cases. In many instances, the soreness is generalized or affects large parts of the body. It’s also possible, however, for myalgia to affect the chest area specifically.
Myocarditis in COVID patients is heart tissue inflammation possibly related to the body’s efforts to fight off the viral infection. It has been noted in some cases of COVID, occasionally among athletes who report needing an unexpectedly long time to get back to their pre-COVID levels of performance. We don’t completely understand the recovery timeline for the heart following COVID, but with myocarditis, rest and a slow return to your previous activity levels could help.
Myositis is the kind of muscular inflammation that can be a result of infections, including a COVID infection. As your body tries to heal, cytokines and other substances involved with the healing response may also inadvertently irritate muscle tissues as well, causing inflammation that can lead to soreness in the chest muscles.
Myofascial pain happens during infections when the fascia, the “wrappers” around muscle groups that help bundle and protect them, can also become inflamed. This, in turn, leads to myofascial pain, which is called a trigger point and often feels like an ache in a specific place deep inside the shoulders or other areas where the muscles are relatively thick.
Stress or tension
Stress or tension can cause soreness, too, which may not be directly caused by COVID, but may be related to isolation, pressure, or other difficult emotions and circumstances. We’ve all been dealing with a lot during this pandemic, and it’s not uncommon for people to tense their muscles, particularly the muscles in the jaw, neck, shoulders, and upper back, as part of their response to stress and anxiety.
Muscle strains or tightness can happen if you’re coughing a lot. Since COVID often makes it difficult to breathe, and can sometimes make you cough, the muscles in your chest wall can get sore and fatigued.
“Long haul” COVID
"Long haul" COVID happens when patients recover from their immediate infection but continue to experience persistent COVID-like symptoms. These patients tend to have longer-lasting periods of tissue inflammation, headaches, depression, and muscular pain, among other symptoms. Long haul COVID pain can crop up in the chest when tiny blood clots block capillaries in the heart muscle; this typically causes chest pain and can unfortunately lead to heart damage over time.
Postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome (POTS)
POTS has sometimes developed in people who have had COVID. POTS is a neurological condition that can make you feel dizzy or as if your heart is fluttering, especially right after you stand up. That’s because the condition affects your heart rate and blood pressure. Over time, brain fog, shakiness, memory problems and fatigue may occur as well. Many other conditions have symptoms that feel like POTS, so visiting a doctor for an official diagnosis is recommended if you think POTS may be part of the post-COVID picture for you. Rest and physical therapy can often help you recover.
Signs your chest pain might be due to something else
Chest pain can also be related to heartburn and digestion problems. These kinds of pain can linger, worsening when you shift positions. They may feel:
- Accompanied by digestion-related sensations like burning or gas
- Sour tastes in your mouth
- Trouble swallowing
While heartburn (also known as acid reflux) can definitely be very painful, even worrisome, it is a temporary condition that usually passes with time as the body continues to digest. Taking an antacid may help. If heartburn or digestion-related problems plague you regularly, you may want to try to figure out what kinds of foods might be causing these problems.
Once you have an idea what’s causing heartburn, you can cut back on these foods or at least decide when you’d like to indulge in them. Probiotics, which you can eat in yogurt or take in pill form, may help, as may eating more fermented foods like kimchi or sauerkraut, since they can help rebalance the microflora that help your gut bacteria digest your food.
What should I do about my chest pain?
If you’re sure your chest pain isn’t urgent, that’s good news, but it’s still fine to feel concerned about what might be going on. Some studies have shown links between COVID infections and continued inflammation or signs of scarring in heart tissues. Some COVID patients report heart palpitations, dizziness, shortness or breath, or pain when breathing in, which could merit visiting your doctor.
Based on current research, while it’s unlikely that COVID will specifically cause you to have a heart attack after you’ve recovered, COVID may still continue to affect your heart. Fatigue is a common sign of lingering COVID impact, as is generalized soreness. If you’re noticing these kinds of symptoms, you may benefit from taking it easy, being kind and understanding with yourself, finding a good physical therapist, practicing meditation or yoga, and completing sets of breathing exercises.
Dehydration and low oxygenation can also impact your heart, so it’s important to drink plenty of water. Some of your chest sensations may be also be due to immobility, to being sick in general and to the recovery process, so you can support yourself with healthy food, staying in touch with helpful friends, starting low-intensity activities like walking, and letting yourself have rest when you feel like you need it.
What can I do to prevent chest pain?
If you’ve already had COVID and want to reduce chest pain, patience, rest and light exercise, along with stress management techniques, can often help.
If you haven’t yet had COVID but hope to prevent it, along with any related chest pain, you probably want to reduce your risk factors. In brief, prevent sickness and increase your chances of healing quickly if you do get infected by practicing good lifestyle medicine:
- Wash your hands frequently, and try to avoid touching your face
- If your hands are drying out from using sanitizer, moisturize them with lotion or ointment to keep your skin barrier strong against infections
- Stay close with friends and family (using technology if necessary) while avoiding needless risks (like hanging out in small spaces for long periods of time)
- Get vaccinated against COVID with the vaccine best suited to your needs
- Eat vibrant fruits and vegetables, along with whole grains and beans
- Gett thirty minutes of exercise a day
- Stay in close touch with friends and family members who make you feel supported
- Maintain a positive outlook that focuses on things to celebrate
- Practice stress-coping skills like deep breathing, planning ahead of time, specific meditations or imagery use, and doing hobbies or activities you find calming
Strong health habits can help counter COVID risk factors you may have, which can include having asthma, being overweight or living in an area that doesn’t have good medical resources.
How Can Clearing Help?
If you have chronic pain that affects your chest or other areas of your body, perhaps you’d like more support. You could try Clearing’s tailored programs for addressing chronic pain. Depending on your specific needs, your Clearing plan may include prescription compound cream, nutraceuticals, CBD cream, health coaching, personalized home exercises, and access to experienced pain specialists. Find out more today.
This article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your healthcare professional with any questions or concerns you may have regarding your individual needs and medical conditions.