Common Reasons Your Child or Teen May Be Experiencing Chest Pain

Common Reasons Your Child or Teen May Be Experiencing Chest Pain

Updated 9/5/23

It’s common for kids to complain of chest pain from time to time. But it can be linked to cardiac-related issues, so it’s important to understand when your child may need to see a doctor. A pediatric cardiologist is a specially trained doctor who can help diagnose and treat a child’s growing heart.

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

Doctor with patient

How common is cardiac-related chest pain in kids?

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. “We see a lot of patients who come in with chest pain, but 99 percent of the time it’s not even associated with their heart,” says Dr. Harden.

A study conducted by Children’s in 2014 evaluated approximately 4,000 pediatric patients who came to the Emergency Department with chest pain. In these patients, less than half of 1 percent had chest pain that was related to a cardiac cause. But it is still a good idea to take your child to a hospital if she is experiencing chest pain.

Why does my child or teen feel chest pain?

In most cases, chest pain in children and teens is caused by muscle- or bone-related pain, such as:

  • Muscle spasms
  • Cramps
  • Growing pains
  • Injury to the chest
  • Acid reflux
  • 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 heart condition.

How does a pediatric cardiologist evaluate chest pain in kids?

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. 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 (blood pressure, temperature, heart rate) will be recorded, and she’ll be asked questions so doctors can 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 to 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 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.

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