What You Should Do if You Experience Chest Pain from a Car Accident
If you experience chest pain after getting into a car accident it could be nothing to worry about, but it could also be life-threatening. Unfortunately, chest pain symptoms can be very similar for both non-life threatening and life-threatening injuries.
Unless you’re a cardiologist, you’re probably not qualified to determine if your symptoms are signs of something more serious. For this reason, do not ignore chest pain after a car accident. Go to the hospital or a trustworthy doctor immediately. It’s simply better to be safe than sorry.
Hopefully, your chest pain is a minor problem that goes away. Sometimes that does not happen. If your injuries are serious and they were caused by someone else’s negligence, you should consult with an auto accident lawyer that specializes in personal injury car accident cases.
Why Does Chest Pain Happen After a Car Accident?
Chest pain is common after a car accident because of the extreme forces that can occur. It also happens because of how cars are designed and because of the location of drivers and passengers within the car. Design issues that lend themselves to chest pain and chest injuries include the steering wheel being close to the driver, the dashboard being close to the passenger, the use of a seat belt, and airbag deployment.
Some people consider seat belts and airbags controversial because they can cause chest injuries when the forces of a car accident propel the occupant into them. Chest pain and chest injuries can happen even when they are used properly. Since they are not necessary components of the vehicle, some people do not want to use them.
While it’s true that seat belts and airbags can cause chest injuries in a car accident, the benefits still outweigh the risk. This is because not using a seat belt and/or disabling an airbag can lead to much more severe injuries or even death. Statistically, seat belts and airbags prevent more injuries than they cause.
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Causes of Chest Pain After a Car Accident
Chest pain after a car accident is a symptom of something wrong. It is not itself an injury. The most common reason for experiencing chest pain from a car accident are detailed below.
Chest Pain from Rib Injuries
Rib injuries are caused by the force of impact slamming occupants into seat belts, the steering wheel, the inside door structure, or the dashboard. Types of rib injuries include fractures or bruises to ribs, fractures or bruising to the sternum, muscle strain, connective tissue damage, or injury to the cartilage surrounding the ribs.
If the impact is severe enough, you can end up with fractured ribs or sternum. The impact causes the bones of the ribs to break or crack. In extreme cases, the broken ribs can displace, fragment, or puncture internal organs or blood vessels. Symptoms of cracked ribs include:
- Extreme chest pain around the broken ribs
- Increased chest pain when breathing
- Increased pain when you touch the broken ribs
- Increased pain when you twist, cough, or try to laugh
Sometimes the impact is not severe enough to cause fractured ribs or sternum. The ribs and or sternum can still be bruised. The symptoms of bruised ribs can be similar to fractured ribs, but the pain is usually less severe. Often the only way to tell the difference is with imaging studies like an x-ray, CT scan, or MRI.
Most people with bruised ribs complain of:
- Dull aching chest pain near the ribs
- The chest pain can come and go
- Pain can increase with deep breaths and position changes
Chest Pain from Muscle Strain, Connective Tissue, and Cartilage Damage
There are small muscles, supportive tissue, and cartilage surrounding the chest and ribs. They can be stretched or torn in a car accident and cause chest pain. Sometimes you can tell the difference between a muscle strain and rib injury because of the intensity and location of the pain. With muscle strains, supporting tissue damage, and cartilage injury, the pain will not be on the bones themselves. The pain will usually be less severe and may often only hurt when lifting, bending or moving your chest.
Chest Pain from Injuries to Internal Organs Caused by a Car Accident
Chest pain after a car accident can be caused by damage to internal organs. There are many different ways that internal organs can be damaged in a car accident. The most common are:
- Hitting the steering wheel
- Hitting the dashboard
- Pressure from the seat belt
- A puncture from a broken rib
Common organs damaged in car accidents include the stomach, spleen, liver, kidneys, and intestines. If the organ is bruised, it may heal over time without intervention. Sometimes these injuries include internal bleeding, which is a life-threatening medical emergency that requires emergency medical attention. Often emergency surgery is the only way to fix it.
Chest Pain from Lung Injuries During a Car Accident
Lungs can be bruised, punctured, or collapsed in a car accident. Like many other injuries that can cause chest pain, these lung injuries can be life-threatening. Symptoms include shortness of breath, difficulty breathing, shallow breathing, and coughing.
Chest Pain from Heart Injuries in a Car Accident
The ribs protect the heart from a direct impact. This does not mean the heart is safe from injury in a car accident. In fact, there are many causes of chest pain after a car accident related to auto accident heart injuries.
Chest Pain from Cardiac Contusion
A cardiac contusion, also called a myocardial contusion, is a medical term that simply means the heart muscle itself is bruised. It can be caused by the rapid deceleration forces and blunt trauma that occurs during a car accident. The bruising occurs on the front or anterior aspect of the chest wall.
Often, the cardiac contusion occurs when the forces are severe enough to cause a fractured sternum and/or fractured ribs. Symptoms of a myocardial contusion include:
- Tenderness and pain in the sternum and or ribcage
- A racing heart (an arrhythmia)
- Increase of chest pain with deep breathing
- Shortness of breath
- Nausea or vomiting
- Coughing up blood
- Feeling faint
Heart Attack After a Car Accident
A heart attack occurs when the blood supply to the heart is blocked. The lack of oxygen to the heart causes part of the heart to die. It is usually caused by diet and lifestyle choices that lead to clogged arteries from a buildup of fat, cholesterol, and plaque.
However, the stress that occurs during a car accident can definitely trigger a heart attack, if you already have atherosclerosis. Symptoms include:
- Chest pain, pressure, or tightness
- Aching sensation in chest and or arms
- Nausea, indigestion, heartburn, or abdominal pain
- Shortness of breath
- Cold sweat
- Lightheadedness or sudden dizziness
Takotsubo Syndrome After a Car Accident
Takotsubo syndrome, also called Takotsubo cardiomyopathy or “broken heart” syndrome, is the name the Japanese have given to a condition that involves the weakening of the left ventricle of the heart. It is caused by severe emotional and/or physical stress. Sometimes the emotional and physical stress of a car accident can cause Takotsubo cardiomyopathy. Symptoms include chest pain and shortness of breath.
Panic Attack After a Car Accident
Sometimes chest pain after a car accident can be nothing more than a simple panic attack. Also called an anxiety attack, a panic attack occurs when the stress and fear of a car accident overwhelms you. It is defined as a sudden episode of intense fear that triggers a physical reaction. Symptoms include:
- Chest pain
- Palpitations, pounding heart, or increased heart rate
- Cold sweat
- Shaking or trembling
- Shortness of breath
- Lightheadedness or dizziness