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May 10, 2021 5 min read

Waking up from chest pain while sleeping can be a concerning, uncomfortable feeling. If you’re wondering, “why does my chest hurt when I lay down?”, we’re here to help. Whether you feel chest pain at night or any other time of day, it should be taken seriously. In this post, we’ll discuss the potential causes of chest discomfort when lying down, options for treatment, and the signs you need to see a doctor.

Read on for a full explanation on the topic, or use the links below to navigate to the section that best applies to your question.

Causes of Chest Pain While Sleeping or Laying Down

If you have chest pain while sleeping, the source of your discomfort may be related to a number of causes, including heart-related issues, digestive problems, or respiratory causes. Below, we’ll take a closer look at each of these possibilities to help you discover why you’re experiencing chest pain in the middle of the night or when lying down.

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Heart-related causes

Chest pain at night may be caused by certain heart-related issues, including:

  • Heart attack:A heart attack can occur when an artery supplying oxygen to the heart muscle is blocked. Blood clots are often the cause of this blockage.
  • Pericarditis:An inflammation of the sac that surrounds your heart. Pain is normal, and may worsen when you take a breath or lie down.
  • Angina: Angina is a type of chest pain caused by a decrease in blood flow to the heart. Plaque accumulation in the arteries that bring blood to your heart is a common cause.
  • Aortic dissection/rupture:This life-threatening disease happens when the inner layers of the aorta, which is the primary artery leading from your heart, split and the aorta tears.
  • Myocarditis: Arrhythmias are irregular or erratic heart rhythms that occur when the heart muscle (myocardium) becomes inflamed.

Respiratory-related causes

Because of the lungs’ proximity to the chest, respiratory issues may be the reason you’re feeling chest pain while sleeping.

  • Pleurisy:When the membrane that covers your lungs and lines the inner wall of your chest cavity, called the pleura, becomes inflamed, chest pain can occur that worsens when you cough or inhale.
  • Pulmonary embolism: Occurs when a blood clot becomes trapped in an artery in one of the lungs, blocking blood flow to lung tissue. It also triggers chest pain and tightness that mimics a heart attack.
  • Hypertension: Pulmonary hypertension is high blood pressure in the pulmonary arteries, which are blood vessels that bring blood to the lungs. It can trigger tightness in your chest and a racing heartbeat.
  • Lung cancer: A form of cancer that affects the healthy functioning of your lungs by causing abnormal cell development. Chest pain is a typical symptom of lung cancer, and it gets worse with heavy breathing or coughing.
  • Collapsed lung:When air escapes into the space between your lung and your chest wall, it prevents your lung from expanding when you breathe in, resulting in a collapsed lung.

Digestion-related causes

Lastly, digestive problems may also be a cause of chest pain at night. Contributing issues may include:

  • Heartburn:A symptom that occurs as a result of acid reflux, which is the backflow of stomach acid into the esophagus. The acidity of the stomach acid irritates the lining of the esophagus, in turn, causing a burning sensation in the chest. Heartburn may also result in chest pain, coughing, and regurgitation.
  • Gallstones:Hardened bile deposits that can develop in the gallbladder, causing inflammation and pain in the chest and abdomen.
  • Pancreatitis:When the pancreas, a large gland behind the stomach, becomes inflamed, it may cause upper abdominal pain that radiates to the chest.
  • Dysphagia:Dysphagia is a term for swallowing disorders that affects the top of the throat or the esophagus farther down, making swallowing difficult and painful.

Other causes

To determine what’s causing your chest pain while lying down and rule out any serious issues, it’s best to consult your physician. In addition to the potential causes outlined above, nighttime chest pain may also be a result of these outlying issues:

  • Panic attacks:The onset of sudden, intense fear that’s associated with a number of physical symptoms, such as chest pain, sweating, rapid heartbeat, nausea, dizziness, headaches, and more.
  • Injury:Certain injuries, like muscle strains, broken ribs, or puncture wounds, may intensify at night when you move or apply pressure to the affected area while lying down.

Woman in pain

Treatments For Chest Pain

Dealing with chest pain while sleeping is not only uncomfortable, but it can be damaging to the quality of sleep and your overall wellness, especially if the condition is severe. Below, we’ll take a look at some typical treatment approaches for heart-, respiratory-, and digestion-related chest pain.

Treating heart-related chest pain

Heart-related chest pain can be serious and potentially life-threatening. Because of the severity of these issues, extensive testing and treatment may be needed.

If your chest pain is a result of a heart attack, treatment may include:

  • Medication:Aspirin, thrombolytics (clot busters), antiplatelet agents, blood thinners, nitroglycerin, beta blockers, pain relievers, blood pressure and blood sugar regulators.
  • Surgery:Coronary angioplasty and stenting or coronary artery bypass surgery
  • Cardiac rehabilitation:General treatment plan that aims to rehabilitate the heart through lifestyle adjustments, medication, therapy, etc.

Note:If you are experiencing symptoms of a heart attack, including chest pain, nausea, fatigue, shortness of breath, and lightheadedness, call 911 for emergency help immediately. Rapid response is extremely important in the event of heart-related emergencies.

Other heart-related issues, such as angina, may be similarly treated with medication, surgery, and cardiac rehabilitation.

Treating respiratory-related chest pain

Similarly to heart-related conditions, respiratory-related chest pain may be treated with a combination of medication, lifestyle changes, and medical procedures, specifically:

  • Lifestyle changes:Dietary modifications that aid in the maintenance of a healthy weight, avoiding tobacco use
  • Medication: Antibiotics or medicine to help regulate blood flow and blood pressure in the lungs
  • Medical procedure/surgery: A chest tube to help remove air or fluid from around the lungs or anticoagulant treatment to prevent blood clots

Older man in pain while lying in bed

Treating digestion-related chest pain

Digestive issues such as heartburn, gallstones, and pancreatitis may also cause chest pain while sleeping. Treatment for these issues often relies on lifestyle modifications, medications, and medical procedures.

  • Lifestyle changes:Maintain a healthy weight, avoid acid reflux trigger foods, wear loose-fitting clothes, adjust your sleeping posture, etc.
  • Medications:Acid reflux medications include antacids, proton pump inhibitors, and H-2 blockers.
  • Medical procedures:GERD surgery may be implemented if you develop a severe form of acid reflux, called gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).

If heartburn or acid reflux is the reason you have chest pain at night, there are several treatment steps you can implement to start soothing your symptoms and preventing heartburn before it begins. In fact, one of the easiest methods is simply adjusting your sleeping posture.

So, how do you sleep with acid reflux? Physicians recommend sleeping at an incline on your left side. Our Reflux Relief System provides the optimal support necessary. In this position, your esophagus remains above the line of your stomach. This helps keep acid in the stomach, rather than allowing it to reflux into the esophagus, causing heartburn symptoms such as chest pain.

Prevent chest pains at night by sleeping at an incline graphic

MedCline’s acid reflux relief pillow system provides support that allows you to sleep comfortably in this physician-recommended position. And, it’s clinically proven to improve acid reflux symptoms and quality of sleep.

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When to See a Doctor

Chest pain should always be taken seriously. If you do find yourself with chest pain at night, consider if you have any known conditions that may be the source of your symptoms. For example, if you have an injury and your doctor said residual pain is normal, you can take steps to address your pain according to their recommendations.

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