Chest pain in children

Jason E. Lang, Andrew A. Colin

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Pain arising from the chest area creates anxiety in children and their parents, often leading to unnecessary activity restriction, school absences, and medical utilization. A thorough but pragmatic evaluation requires a grasp of the pathophysiology of several organ systems and an understanding of epidemiologic and behavioral patterns specific to children. Few symptoms in pediatrics test a clinician's skill more than chest pain. Though the etiology is frequently benign, it is often uncertain, and sprinkled among cases of chest pain are potentially fatal conditions. This review summarizes chest pain in children of all ages, with particular emphasis on adolescents. We review the organic causes including musculoskeletal trauma, strain and inflammation, respiratory conditions such as occult asthma, pneumonia and bronchitis, and the important role of esophageal disease. We discuss the relatively minor role of cardiac disease, but highlight the conditions that are vital to consider, such as arrhythmia, mitral valve disease, Kawasaki syndrome, Marfan syndrome, and cocaine use. Anxiety, depression, and other psychological factors often further complicate the presentation. A pediatrician's best tools are diagnostic acumen, which may be lifesaving, and supportive dialogue, to impart reassurance to a worried family. We explore the most common and most lethal causes by age, organ system, and predisposing illness. We review the neuroanatomic considerations important in visceral, chest wall, and mediastinal pain, and the sensation within the lung, airways, and pleurae. Lastly, we highlight pragmatic 'take-home' tips for the clinician, most of which involve good history-taking and physical examination, but also include the utility of basic testing that can detect the rare cases of fatal cardiopulmonary disease.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)245-258
Number of pages14
JournalCurrent Pediatric Reviews
Issue number3
StatePublished - Aug 1 2006


  • Adolescents
  • Angina
  • Asthma
  • Chest pain
  • Musculoskeletal

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health


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