Chest Pain in Children

Common Reasons for Chest Pain in Children and Teens

It's common for kids to complain of chest pain from time to time. But chest pain in children can be linked to cardiac-related issues. It's important to understand which chest pain symptoms mean it's time to take your child to a pediatric cardiologist. Pediatric cardiologists have specialized understanding of growing hearts.

Brandon Harden, MD, Pediatric Cardiologist at Children's Healthcare of Atlanta, explains symptoms of heart-related chest pain in kids and when it's time to see a pediatric cardiologist.

How common is cardiac-related chest pain?

Chest pain is a common complaint in children and teens. However, even if your child has a heart condition, chest pain is rarely cardiac related. “Although we see a lot of patients who come in with chest pain, 99% of the time it's not associated with the heart,” says Dr. Harden.

A study conducted by Children's in 2014 evaluated approximately 4,000 pediatric patients that came to the emergency department for chest pain. In these patients, less than half of one percent had chest pain that was related to a cardiac cause. However, even though the likelihood of a cardiac issue is low in these instances, it is still a good idea to take your child to a hospital if she is experiencing chest pain.

Why does my child feel chest pain?

In most cases, chest pain in children is caused by muscle- or bone-related pain. “Muscle spasms, cramps, growing pains, injury to the chest or even acid reflux can be the main causes of chest pain in children,” says Dr. Harden. Other common issues include lung problems, like asthma.

If your child passes out, feels dizzy, or has a fast or irregular heartbeat as a result of chest pain, these could be symptoms related to a cardiac condition.

How do pediatric cardiologists evaluate chest pain?

If you feel that your child's chest pain is caused by a cardiac-related problem, you will need to take her to a pediatric cardiologist. Children and teens are still growing and should always see a pediatric cardiologist at a pediatric-specific facility. These providers are trained to work on children's hearts using specially designed tools and techniques.

When your child is being assessed, her vital signs (like blood pressure, temperature, heart rate) will be recorded and she'll be asked questions, so doctors better understand her pain, including:

  • Where is your pain?
  • How long have you been feeling this pain?
  • How often are you feeling this pain?
  • Can you rate your pain on a scale of 1-10?
  • Does a specific activity, like running, skipping or lifting weights bring on the pain?

Your child's answers to these questions, as well as your child's medical history, will help the cardiologist determine whether more testing is needed. If necessary, the doctor may recommend that your child have an:

  • Electrocardiogram
  • Echocardiogram
  • Exercise stress test

If your child is diagnosed with cardiac-related chest pain, the cardiologist will work with you and your child on next steps depending on your child's individual test results.

Validate your child's pain

“Even if your child’s chest pain is not coming from their heart, it's important to realize that the pain is real and not made up. Reassuring your child that the pain is not heart related will often eliminate any anxiety surrounding the episodes. If you have new concerns about your child’s pain after an evaluation with a cardiologist, consult your pediatrician,” says Dr. Harden.

“Although we see a lot of patients who come in with chest pain, 99% of the time it’s not associated with the heart.”