When chest pain and a headache happen at the same time they are usually unrelated, though some conditions can cause both symptoms.

Experiencing chest pain and a headache at the same time may be related to the heart, the immune system, or psychological factors.

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The cause is usually not serious, but people may be concerned that these symptoms indicate a problem with high blood pressure or a heart attack.

In this article, we look at conditions that can cause chest pain and a headache. We also explain whether or not they are serious and when to see a doctor.

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Causes and other symptoms

As many as 5.5 million people will seek medical advice for chest pain in a given year. In most cases, there is no cause for concern.

Below, we discuss various conditions that can cause both chest pain and a headache at the same time.

Anxiety or panic attacks

Woman with chest pain and headache looking in bathroom mirror in dressing gown
Anxiety may cause chest pain and headaches together.

According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), anxiety can cause both headaches and chest pain.

A panic attack can often feel similar to a heart attack, which can further increase a person’s anxiety. Symptoms of a panic attack include:

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  • chest pain
  • shortness of breath
  • a rapid heartbeat
  • dizziness
  • sweating
  • trembling
  • a feeling of losing control

Panic attacks can arise spontaneously and without warning, or can occur as a result of a stressful event. Learning to recognize the symptoms of a panic attack can ease a person’s worry when they arise.

Migraines

A migraine is a type of headache that typically causes severe pain on one side of the head. A small-scale research study from 2014 suggests that chest pain can be a migraine symptom too, though not a common one. When a migraine does cause chest pain, antimigraine medication seems to relieve the pain.

The other symptoms of a migraine often include:

  • pain around one or both temples
  • pain behind one or both eyes
  • nausea or vomiting
  • sensitivity to light or sound
  • an aura, which can cause a person to see flashing lights or lose their vision

A person can experience a migraine with aura and other symptoms without actually developing a headache.

The ADAA suggest that there may be a link between migraines and anxiety disorders, including generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), panic disorders, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Lupus

Lupus is an autoimmune disorder that causes the immune system to attack otherwise healthy tissue. It can target the heart, which can lead to chest pain. If it also targets blood vessels, a person may experience a headache as well.

Additional symptoms of lupus include:

  • fever
  • loss of appetite
  • blurry vision
  • neurological symptoms

Unrelated causes

It is possible that a person may experience two unrelated conditions or issues. In this case, one condition will cause a headache, while the other causes chest pains.

For example, dehydration can cause someone to have a headache. They may also have an upper respiratory infection that could cause the chest pain. Both conditions may require medical attention.

Other possible conditions

In addition to the above, a person may also experience a combination of chest pain and a headache with any of the following conditions:

Can high blood pressure cause both symptoms?

Nurse measuring patients blood pressure.
High blood pressure does not usually have any symptoms.

Some people believe that high blood pressure can cause headaches, chest pain, and dizziness.

However, the American Heart Association (AHA) say that high blood pressure usually has no symptoms at all, unless a person is having a hypertensive crisis, which refers to a blood pressure of 180/120 or higher.

A hypertensive crisis is a medical emergency, so it is vital to call the emergency services if the following symptoms occur:

  • chest pain
  • a headache
  • a nosebleed
  • severe anxiety
  • shortness of breath
  • back pain
  • changes in vision

Can a headache be a sign of heart attack?

A headache is not a common symptom of a heart attack. Severe chest pain is the primary symptom.

According to the AHA, the additional early signs of a heart attack may include:

  • a feeling of fullness or tightness in the chest that may come and go
  • shortness of breath
  • pain or discomfort in the jaw, stomach, back, or one or both arms
  • cold sweat
  • nausea or vomiting
  • lightheadedness

The AHA also noted that women are more likely than men to experience other symptoms of a heart attack. The other symptoms can be confusing and prevent a person from realizing that they are having a heart attack.

It is essential for anyone experiencing a feeling of tightness or pressure in the chest to seek medical attention immediately. Early help during a heart attack can help the outcome.

When to see a doctor

Doctor and patient both female talking over desk
Consult a doctor if other symptoms accompany chest pain and headaches.

A person should seek medical attention if they experience additional symptoms alongside their headache. Some symptoms that indicate a more significant issue include:

  • an inability to think clearly
  • a stiff neck
  • nausea or vomiting
  • bleeding
  • fever
  • dizziness
  • slurred speech
  • weakness

The National Headache Foundation provide a guide explaining when to seek medical attention for a headache.

Treatment

The treatment for chest pain and a headache will depend on the cause.

A doctor will initially need to rule out any underlying severe causes. They may ask about any additional symptoms, the severity of the symptoms, and possible risk factors. They may also use diagnostic tests such as an electrocardiogram (EKG) to monitor the heart or blood tests to look for underlying conditions.

If there are no underlying conditions, or they are benign, a person may try some home remedies. Some examples include:

  • reducing stress by limiting stressful activities and practicing relaxation techniques
  • resting as much as necessary
  • using over-the-counter (OTC) pain medication to help alleviate the pain
  • using a warm compress on the head or relevant muscle groups to help relieve stress
  • trying behavioral therapies to help with anxiety or panic attacks

Outlook

If there are no serious underlying conditions, a person can expect their headache and chest pain to subside with minimal intervention. In these cases, long-term effects are unlikely.

If there is an underlying condition, treating this should provide the individual with symptom relief. However, the recovery from other conditions can take a long time.

People should seek medical attention immediately if they have unexplained pain in the chest or if other symptoms are present.