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Can vaping cause chest pain?

Vaping, or using e-cigarettes, has become increasingly popular in recent years. However, concerns have been raised about the potential health effects of vaping, including chest pain. In this article, we will explore the research on vaping and chest pain and provide an overview of the potential causes.

What is vaping?

Vaping involves inhaling vapor produced by an e-cigarette or vape pen. The vapor is created by heating up a liquid, commonly called vape juice, e-liquid or e-juice. This liquid usually contains nicotine, flavorings and other chemicals. The heated liquid turns into an aerosol that the user inhales. Vaping devices heat the e-juice to lower temperatures than traditional cigarettes, resulting in an inhalable vapor instead of smoke.

Can vaping cause chest pain?

Some research has found associations between vaping and chest pain, though more studies are needed. Here is a summary of what we know so far:

  • A 2020 study surveyed over 28,000 teens ages 13-18. Those who used e-cigarettes were nearly twice as likely to report chest pain compared to those who never vaped.
  • A 2019 case report described acute myocardial infarction (heart attack) in a 17-year old boy following vaping. Chest pain was among the symptoms reported.
  • A 2018 study looked at 94 adolescents who used e-cigarettes. Chest pain was reported by 22% of them.
  • In a 2017 study of 71 participants who smoked vs. vaped nicotine, 18% of the vaping group reported chest pain compared to 0% of the smoking group.

Overall, while concerning, most of these studies are small or rely on self-reported data. More rigorous research is still needed to establish a clear link between vaping and chest pain. However, chest pain has been reported in a noteworthy minority of vaping users across multiple studies so far.

Potential causes of chest pain from vaping

There are a few theories for how vaping could contribute to chest pain:

Lung irritation

The vapor from e-cigarettes exposes the lungs to numerous chemicals, flavorings and particles. This irritation could cause inflammation or spasms in the airways, leading to chest tightness and pain. Those with pre-existing lung disease may be especially susceptible.

Nicotine effects

Nicotine stimulates the release of adrenaline, which can temporarily increase heart rate and blood pressure. It also raises carbon monoxide levels in the blood. These effects could potentially reduce oxygen delivery to the heart muscle, resulting in chest pain.

Toxic chemicals

The flavorings and components in vape juice may contain toxic chemicals, such as formaldehyde and diacetyl, when heated and inhaled. Exposure to these toxins could plausibly increase inflammation or have other effects leading to chest discomfort.

Heart problems

In rare cases, vaping may trigger spasms in the heart’s arteries that supply the heart muscle, causing sudden crushing chest pain. This could increase the risk of heart attack, especially in those with cardiovascular disease risk factors. However, more research is needed on this association.

Other potential symptoms

In addition to chest pain, vaping has been associated with other concerning respiratory and cardiovascular symptoms. These include:

  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath
  • Wheezing
  • Racing heart
  • Dizziness

Experiencing any of these symptoms with vaping should warrant medical attention. Inform your doctor about your vaping use.

Who may be at risk?

Certain populations may face increased risk for chest pain or other health effects with vaping. These include:

  • Adolescents and young adults: More vulnerable to nicotine addiction and effects on the developing brain and lungs.
  • Pregnant women: Nicotine is harmful to fetal development.
  • People with heart and lung conditions: Underlying cardiovascular and respiratory disease increases susceptibility.
  • Users of THC e-cigarettes: THC vaping has been tied to lung injuries.

Diagnosing chest pain caused by vaping

If you experience chest pain with vaping, get medical attention, especially if the pain is sudden or severe. Inform your doctor about your vaping to help them make an accurate diagnosis.

They will perform a physical exam and ask about your symptoms. Tests may include:

  • Chest x-ray
  • Lung function tests
  • ECG
  • Blood tests
  • CT scan of the chest

These tests can help rule out various lung and heart conditions that could be causing your chest pain. Your doctor can then determine if vaping is the likely culprit.

Treatment and prevention

Treatment will depend on the underlying cause but may involve:

  • Quitting vaping
  • Pain relievers
  • Steroids for lung inflammation
  • Supplemental oxygen
  • Surgery for cases like pneumothorax

The most effective way to prevent chest pain from vaping is not to vape at all. If you vape, consider quitting by using evidence-based stop smoking aids. At the very least, avoid illegal products and those containing THC. See your doctor if you experience chest pain or other concerning symptoms while vaping. They can carry out proper testing and treatment.

The bottom line

Early research suggests vaping may increase the risk of chest pain in some users, especially youth and adolescents. Proposed mechanisms include lung irritation, nicotine’s cardiovascular effects, exposure to toxic chemicals, and rare cases of vaping-triggered heart problems. Those with existing lung conditions seem most susceptible. More rigorous, large-scale studies are still needed. However, chest pain should not be ignored and warrants medical evaluation to identify the cause and proper treatment. The most reliable way to prevent chest pain from vaping is to avoid vaping altogether.