What side is your heart on? It may not be the answer you’re expecting! Chest pain is an issue that understandably makes many people nervous, but knowing some basic facts about your heart and the rest of your body can help you feel more at ease and informed.
Read this guide to learn your heart location, where the heart is located in relation to other organs, what kind of chest pain may indicate a heart issue, and other potential causes of chest pain.
What Side Is Your Heart On?
Where is the heart located? While most people think their heart is located on the left side of their chest, (after all, isn’t that where you place your hand when you say the Pledge of Allegiance?) your heart location is actually close to the center of your chest, just slightly shifted to the left side. About two-thirds of your heart is on the left side of your chest, and one-third is on the right side, so it’s pretty nearly centered.
To get technical about it, your heart is located in your mediastinum (a membranous space located between the lungs), which itself is in the center of your thorax (the part of the body between your neck and abdomen).
The heart is commonly thought to be on the left side of your body since it’s this side of the heart that does most of the work. The left side is stronger and is the part of the heart that pumps oxygen-rich blood to other parts of the body, so it’s primarily this side of the heart (located slightly on the left side of your chest) that you feel beating when you put your hand on your chest, leading people to think that the entire heart is on the left side of the chest. Your heart is about the size of your fist, so if you make a fist and put it over the center of your chest, you’ll get a good idea of where your heart is located.
Where Is the Heart Located in Relation to Other Organs?
Because of its central location in your chest, your heart is close to a lot of other vital organs. Your heart is located behind your sternum and between your two lungs. The heart is located closer to the front of your chest, in front of your esophagus and spine. Below your heart is your diaphragm, stomach, and liver. The diagram below shows where the heart location in respect to other organs.
What Kinds of Chest Pain Indicate a Heart Issue?
Often when people feel chest pain, they worry they are experiencing a heart attack or other serious heart issue. While many times the chest pain is caused by something other than your heart (see the next section), you should always call your doctor, call 911, or go to the hospital if you’re concerned that you’re having a heart issue.
The classic symptom of a heart attack is pain on the left side of your chest. This pain can range from mild to severe, and many people report feeling pressure or a squeezing sensation in their chest. The pain may be steady or come and go.
Common symptoms of chest pain that is caused by heart issues include:
- Pain that is usually worse in the morning
- Pain that feels deep or heavy as opposed to sharp and stabbing
- Pain that feels worse when you exert yourself
However, chest pain due to a heart issue is not only limited to pain on the left side of the chest. Pain may also occur in other areas such as on either side of the upper chest, radiating down one or both arms, and behind your ribs. The pain can also spread to your back, upper part of the stomach, shoulders, neck, and jaw.
Other common symptoms of a heart attack include:
- Shortness of breath
- Nausea and/or vomiting
- Breaking out in a sweat
If you experience these symptoms, call 911 immediately, even if you're not sure you're having a heart attack.
What Are Other Causes of Chest Pain?
Chest pain isn’t something you should brush off, but fortunately there are many causes of chest pain besides a heart attack. In fact, the pain may not even be related to your heart at all. Below are some non-cardiac causes of chest pain.
Pain on the Left or Right Side of Your Chest
- Tear or strain in your chest wall: Pulls, strains, or tears to the Pectoralis Major or Pectoralis Minor can also cause chest pain. The pain often increases when you touch the area or move in certain ways.
- Pneumonia: Pneumonia is a lung infection that inflames the air sacs of one or both lungs. If you only have pneumonia in one lung, that may be the only side of the chest where you feel pain. Pneumonia is often accompanied by a fever, cough, and a general feeling of malaise.
- Pulmonary embolism: A pulmonary embolism is when a blood clot lodges in an artery of the lung. If a PE occurs, you’ll often feel a sharp, stabbing pain on the side of your chest where that lung is located that feels worse when you take deep breaths.
- Inflamed pancreas: If your pancreas is inflamed, you’ll often have intense pain that begins behind your rib cage and spreads to the right side of your chest. The pain is often worse when you lie down.
Pain in Your Upper Abdomen
- Appendicitis: Appendicitis occurs when your appendix becomes inflamed. Your appendix is located in the lower right side of your abdomen, but the pain can spread to your middle and upper abdomen, especially if the infection becomes severe.
- Gallbladder infection: If you have a gallbladder infection or gallstones, you may feel sharp, stabbing pains in your upper abdomen.
- Liver infection: When the liver is inflamed or infected with hepatitis, it can cause pain in your upper abdomen which also spread to the right side of your chest.
- Digestion issue: Indigestion, heartburn, or other digestive issue can cause discomfort and pain that spreads to the upper abdomen and sometimes the chest and esophagus.
Recap: What Side Is Your Heart On?
What side of the body is the heart on? The heart’s location is erroneously thought to be the left side of the chest, but your heart is actually located nearly in the center of your chest, behind your sternum and between your two lungs.
Pain on the left side of the chest is often connected with heart problems because it usually the left side of the heart that causes pain when there is a health issue. Heart problems are a serious, and sometimes fatal, health issue, and if you’re ever concerned about chest pain you’re experiencing, contact your doctor or go to the hospital immediately. However, chest pain can be caused by many issues not related to the heart, such as an issue with your lungs, liver, or digestion.
Don’t spend too much time trying to self-diagnose though. Whenever you have a health issue that worries you, make an appointment with your doctor so you can get an accurate diagnosis.
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