One fine day, my 5.5 year old daughter came up to me and said, ‘Mommy, my chest hurts’. While her statement made me a tad uneasy, in my brain I dismissed it as a muscular spasm (or something?) and went on with my thing. Having said that, in the days that followed, I was consciously alert of any more such signals from her. Lets just put it like this-I was watching her as a hawk!
The next couple of days passed peacefully. And just when I had convinced myself that this was a one-off thing, there she was again – ‘Mommy, my heart pains’. OK enough. First, I was uncomfortable about my little one using words such as chest and heart, and that too, not in a happy way. Second, just like any other paranoid mum my age, my mind was full of a million things that could possibly be wrong. Anxiety had definitely set in. And that’s when I decided to book an appointment with her pediatrician.
Fortunately (unlike adults), chest pains in children are very rarely due to a cardiac condition. Also, in over 95% of the cases, these pains resolve itself completely with time. However, they are a REAL thing and any such complaints should be evaluated, diagnosed and treated specifically.
Sometimes, it can be something as simple as an injury. Typically, an injury can result in pain in the ribs, muscles, tendons or bone. The area around the chest can feel tender or inflamed. Be on the look out for symptoms that get aggravated with play, strenuous activity or lifting anything heavy.
At other times, it can be an actual illness. Bronchitis is known to cause chest pains along with a fever, cough and shortness of breath. Asthma, which is another very common condition in children may also result in pain, wheezing and difficulty while breathing.
If the pain is felt at a particular point (specifically at the center of the breast bone) and is accompanied by heartburn, it is often gastro-intestinal in nature. Such pains get exaggerated after a heavy or spicy meal, or if the child has a habit of eating too fast or too much at once.
And finally, as real as it can get, chest pain in children is often caused by anxiety. Some children exhibit very definite symptoms such as nail biting, hyperventilation, tingling in hands and legs and restless sleep. However, there might be others with no external indications at all. In fact, if no known cause of chest pain is established, it can more-or-less be attributed to anxiety of some kind.
Besides evaluating the overall health of the child, the pediatrician will conduct a thorough physical examination of the child who complains of such pains, including listening to his/her heart and lungs. If abnormalities are noticed, chest x-rays and electrocardiograms may be ordered for further investigation.
In the case of my daughter, it turned out to be a gastro-issue. She has a condition known as ‘acid reflux’ which cause the contents of her stomach to back up in the esophagus, resulting in a feeling of heartburn more than pain. To treat this, she was prescribed an anti-gas medication (Maalox syrup) suitable for kids. The medicine has worked as a dream.
It will be safe to say that in the last few months, whenever we have had an incidence of greasy, heavy, oily, spicy or just too much food, it has been Maalox syrup to the rescue!