About chest pain in children and teenagers
Chest pain is very common in children.
The pain might be in any part of the chest, and it can have many causes.
A common cause of chest pain in children is a severe cough, which might be caused by asthma or an infection of the airways or lungs like a cold or the flu. Coughing all the time can strain the muscles of your child’s chest wall, which causes the pain.
Children who have a viral illness or frequent coughing might get a type of chest pain called costochondritis. This is caused by swelling of the rib and breastbone joints. Children’s rib joints might feel tender if pressed, and deep breathing might be painful. Costochondritis can last for several weeks.
Another common cause of chest pain in children is a ‘stitch’ below the rib cage. This is a sharp pain that lasts several minutes and might start after exercise. It’s not harmful.
Precordial catch syndrome is a sudden, intense sharp pain along the chest or back. The pain gets worse while breathing in. It can last for several minutes and then disappear completely. It’s not harmful and tends to get better with time. It’s common in teenagers.
If your child has fallen on their side or had a blow to the chest and complains of chest pain, they might have injured a rib or a muscle in the chest wall.
Stress or anxiety can cause chest pain. It can also make chest pain from another cause worse.
Gastro-oesophageal reflux can cause a burning or uncomfortable feeling in the chest.
Heart disease is a very rare cause of chest pain in children.
Does your child need to see a doctor about chest pain?
Probably not. If your child’s chest pain is mild and your child is otherwise feeling well, your child doesn’t need to see a doctor. But you should monitor your child and take them to your GP if the chest pain doesn’t go away with simple pain relief or it gets worse.
You should also take your child to your GP if the chest pain happens during exercise or they get chest pain regularly.
You should take your child to an emergency department or dial 000 for an ambulance if your child complains of severe chest pain, or has chest pain and also:
- is short of breath or sweaty
- has pain that travels to the neck or left shoulder and arm
- has a very fast heart rate
- feels faint or dizzy
- has recently had an accident
- has a fever or is generally unwell
- seems confused.
If your child has chest pain and risk factors for a more serious heart condition, they should also seek medical attention. These risk factors include:
- congenital heart disease or previous heart surgery
- previous Kawasaki disease
- a blood, inflammation or cholesterol disorder
- chronic lung or airway disease
- type-1 diabetes or type-2 diabetes
- a history of using stimulating drugs like cocaine.
You know your child best, so trust your instincts if your child doesn’t seem well. It’s important to get urgent medical attention if your child is showing signs of a severe illness.
Treatment for chest pain
In most cases, chest pain is nothing to worry about.
If your child has chest pain without any of the symptoms or risk factors above, you can reassure your child so they feel less worried about the pain.