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06:30 PM

Chest pain in children - When does it become an emergency?

TheDocSmitty lets readers know causes of chest pain in children & when to be concerned

Chest pain is a common complaint in children and teenagers, but is often not a major concern.

We have been trained to assume that chest pain is caused by the heart and an emergency, which is right in adults. But, one of the basic principles of pediatrics is that children are not “just little adults.”

Chest pain is a perfect example.

What are some common causes of chest pain in children?

1. Muscular or rib pain - This is the most common cause of chest pain in children. Pain can be caused by a bruise, muscle strain or after repetitive coughing.

2. Lungs - Asthma and pneumonia are two common lung causes of chest pain.

3. Stomach - Reflux can cause chest pain (think “heartburn”).

4. Psychological - Stress, anxiety and panic attacks frequently show up as chest pain.

If most chest pain in children is not an emergency, when does it become one?

1. The pain is severe, especially if it has the classic findings of heart pain (crushing pain, under the breastbone, moving to the left arm or up the jaw).

2. The pain is associated with difficulty breathing.

3. The pain has is associated with other symptoms (fever, nausea/vomiting for example).

What are some other findings that suggest the heart is the cause of chest pain?

1. The pain is associated with exercise or limits the child’s ability to exercise.

2. The child has lightheadedness, dizziness or faints with exercise.

3. There is a family history of heart problems or sudden death, especially if early in life.

If your child has any chest pain, a visit to your doctor is important so that they can ask you questions and perform an exam on your child to determine the cause and right treatment.

About the author

Justin Smith, M.D., is a Cook Children's pediatrician in Lewisville . View more from The Doc Smitty at his Facebook page. He attended University of Texas, Southwestern Medical School and did his pediatric training at Baylor College of Medicine. He joins Cook Children's after practicing in his hometown of Abilene for four years. He has a particular interest in development, behavior and care for children struggling with obesity. In his spare time, he enjoys playing with his 3 young children, exercising, reading and writing about parenting and pediatric health issues.

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