Top 3 Causes of Chest Pain in Children & Teens

By Derek Williams, DO, Pediatric Cardiologist, Brenner Children’s

It can be scary for a parent when their child complains of chest pain, but fortunately, chest pain in children and teens is usually unrelated to the heart.

The most common causes in this age group are:

  • Chest wall pain: Chest wall pain usually occurs after an injury such as a fall, hit or kick. It can also be due to growing pains or repetitive stress caused by exercise or sports. Chest wall pain is often tender to touch.
  • Gastroesophageal reflux (GERD): Pain from GERD typically feels like a burning pain under the breastbone. It usually occurs after a child has eaten especially spicy or acidic food. GERD-related pain can awaken a child in the early hours of the morning.
  • Precordial catch syndrome: This type of pain occurs closer to the rib area of the chest. It’s a sharp pain that can momentarily take a child’s breath (much like a running cramp). Precordial catch syndrome is typically short in duration, but can occur frequently throughout the day.
    Most of the common causes of pain occur when a child is sleeping, sitting or lying down. Chest pain that only occurs when the child is active, such as during vigorous play or exercise, should be taken more seriously.

Any child or teen with activity-related chest pain should be seen by a pediatric cardiologist. Pediatric cardiologists specialize in treating children and are adept at uncovering the causes of chest pain in this age group. In our practice at Brenner Children’s alone, about one-third of our clinic visits are related to chest pain. This makes us very familiar with the causes, workups and treatments of chest pain disorders in children. Cardiologists who primarily treat adults tend to focus on coronary artery disease and chest pain related to heart attacks. These conditions are incredibly rare in children and teens.

If your child’s condition seems urgent, seek emergency care at the Brenner Children’s emergency department or another local emergency department. During a cardiac emergency, you may notice your child experiencing one or more of the following symptoms in conjunction with chest pain: difficulty breathing, paleness, very fast heart rate or passing out.

Rest assured, however, that most chest pain in children and teens does not turn out to be serious. If your child is not experiencing an emergency, but you would like a more comprehensive evaluation, our team is happy so see your child for any chest pain concerns you or your primary care physician have. In most cases, we can reassure you that everything is fine.

*Remember: If your child is experiencing life-threatening symptoms such as difficulty breathing, paleness, very fast heart rate or passing out, please call 911.