Chest pain after a car accident: Causes and more – Medical News Today

Car or automobile accidents can majorly impact a person’s body and emotional well-being. They can lead to temporary or long-term chest pain due to injuries.
Severe accidents can cause disability or even be fatal. However, even minor accidents can injure the chest or other body areas.
This article reviews some causes of chest pain and associated symptoms after an accident. It also explains diagnosis, treatment, outlook, and when to contact a doctor.
Approximately 3–7% of motor vehicle accidents result in a fractured sternum.
Motor vehicle accidents account for about 60–90% of all fractured sternums, many due to impact from the steering wheel.
A fractured sternum can cause:
An automobile accident can also cause bruised or broken ribs.
Left untreated, broken ribs can become life threatening. The most common symptoms include pain associated with the following:
Minor accidents can cause bruising of the chest muscles or cause them to strain. Symptoms may include:
According to a 2020 article, 20–50% of all people who seek primary care doctors for chest pain have musculoskeletal pain, such as from muscular strains or bruising.
A car accident can cause bruising on the lungs or result in a punctured or collapsed lung. A collapsed lung may occur due to blunt trauma or as a complication from fractured ribs.
Symptoms may include:
Blunt cardiac injury, formally known as a myocardial contusion, describes an injury to the heart due to blunt force. These injuries range in severity from silent arrhythmias to fatal cardiac ruptures.
After an automobile accident, doctors often try to determine if there was a steering wheel impact.
The two most common symptoms of blunt cardiac injury include chest pain and shortness of breath. Some people may also report palpitations or symptoms similar to angina.
A doctor will likely assess a person’s cardiovascular risk after an accident to help determine their risk of experiencing a heart attack or other potentially fatal complications.
Sometimes, first responders may transport a person to an emergency room immediately following a car accident. There, doctors will likely try to assess the person’s injuries and determine if any damage occurred to the chest.
A person should consider seeing a doctor following a minor accident if they:
Heart attack signs may be difficult to differentiate from pain due to injuries from a car accident. However, if a person experiences symptoms such as those below, they should seek emergency medical services immediately.
Heart attacks occur when there is a lack of blood supply to the heart. Symptoms include:
If someone has these symptoms:
If a person stops breathing before emergency services arrive, perform manual chest compressions:
Use an automatic external defibrillator (AED) available in many public places:
Diagnosis of chest issues related to a car accident may vary. However, it will generally involve a combination of physical examinations and imaging tests, such as an X-ray or CT scan.
A doctor will also likely ask the person about what they may have struck or what might have struck them during the accident. For example, a steering wheel impact, more frequent in accidents involving older cars without airbags, is a common cause of blunt cardiac injury.
Doctors will also typically ask about the severity of pain and areas that hurt more than others. They usually perform a physical examination to check for tender areas and order tests as needed to assess broken ribs, damage to the lungs or airways, and issues with the heart. These tests may also include an ECG.
Recovery and treatment following a car accident vary based on injury severity and associated complications.
A person with bruised ribs or muscles will likely only need limited care, including:
In cases of blunt cardiac trauma, a doctor will likely recommend 24–48 hours of cardiac monitoring due to the possibility of life threatening arrhythmias or cardiac arrest, which is most likely to occur during this time frame.
Bone or muscle injuries may require a combination of prescription pain relievers, physical therapy, and other therapies.
Older individuals or those at higher risk of complications may need monitoring in an intensive care unit (ICU).
A person’s outlook will vary significantly based on the severity of the accident and the injuries they sustained.
Those at risk of cardiac events, such as a heart attack, often have the least favorable outlook. In contrast, those who experience injured muscles or minor breaks alone often have the best.
Most people can recover from chest injuries sustained in a car accident with proper care. However, a person’s doctor or care team can offer individualized advice regarding their outlook.
Chest pain following a car accident may be due to surface injuries, broken ribs, or more severe injuries and complications, such as a collapsed lung or blunt heart injury. Older people have a higher chance of complications, such as heart attack, and may require additional monitoring.
A person’s treatment will vary based on the type of injuries they sustain. It is best for people to discuss their outlook with a doctor or care team, who will help determine their treatment plan and overall recovery process.
Last medically reviewed on February 27, 2023
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