Surprisingly, chest pain is actually more common in athletes than it is in people who are not physically active. However, chest pain experienced by young athletes is not typically a sign of a heart condition but a medical evaluation should still be performed to make sure everything is fine.
Causes of Chest Pain in Young Individuals
If heart conditions and illnesses are ruled out, then the following issues may be the reason behind chest pain in young people:
- Inflammation and trauma - athletes such as boxers and lacrosse players often receive hard hits to the chest and this can result in injuries such as muscle sprains and tears as well as rib fractures. Repetitive movements of the chest due to intense training can also cause a condition known as costochondritis which is the medical term for inflammation of the cartilage that connects the ribs to the breastbone. This latter issue occurs commonly in competitive weightlifters, rowers, and tennis players.
- Increased breathing, blood pressure, and heart rate - conditions such as anxiety, depression, and panic attacks can occur even in young and healthy individuals. These mental health conditions can result in spikes in one's blood pressure or heart rate as well as cause an individual to hyperventilate and these can cause chest pain.
- Lung issues - exercise-induced bronchospasm is a condition that occurs when the there is constriction of the small airways of the lungs which can take place during or immediately after exercise. This problem can cause sharp chest pains and make breathing difficult. A more serious but rare lung-related issue that can also cause chest pain is a pneumothorax where air leaks into the space between the lungs and the chest wall. Another important condition to rule out is a pulmonary embolus where clots that develop in the deep venous system of the body break off and lodge in the pulmonary arteries that feed blood to the lungs.
- Gastrointestinal conditions - chest pain can be experienced as a result of gastrointestinal problems such as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GORD) or heartburn. This occurs commonly among athletes and younger individuals who eat refined and fatty foods. Muscular pain as a result of increased physical exertion can result in the use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications and this can also result in increased acid production in the stomach which may lead to reflux and chest pain.
Heart Conditions that may Affect Younger People
Younger individuals can also experience chest pain as a result of congenital heart conditions such as:
- Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy where there is excessive thickening of the heart muscle and is the leading cause of sudden cardiac death in younger individuals and athletes.
- Congenital valve lesions and conditions.
- Abnormally located coronary arteries.
Myocarditis (inflammation of the heart muscle) and pericarditis (inflammation of the membrane covering the heart) can be caused by viral infections which can be exacerbated by physical exercise and these can also cause chest pain.
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