Chest pain after drinking coffee

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Coffee is a controversial drink. Some say it’s addictive, bad for the heart, can cause certain diseases. Others are pretty sure coffee is beneficial for your heart and prevents developing certain diseases.

Scientists seem to agree that a few cups of plain black coffee daily is good for your heart and has many other benefits. However, drinking too much coffee or adding too much sugar or cream can negate these benefits.

Some people experience unpleasant symptoms after drinking small amounts of coffee. Let’s see what causes these symptoms and what can be done to relieve them.

What is caffeine?

Caffeine is a natural stimulant that can help stimulate the central nervous system and the brain. This helps you to stay alert and can prevent you from feeling so tired.

Actually, caffeine is a (legal) psychoactive drug.

A short video about what happens to your body when you drink too much coffee. Duration: 3:41

What foods and drinks contain caffeine?

We may know that coffee, tea, and sodas all contain caffeine, there are a few other foods and beverages that contain this ingredient as well. Some examples of caffeine amounts in your favorite foods and beverages include:

  • Espresso: Contains between 240 to 720mg of caffeine (depends on the size)
  • Coffee: Contains between 102 to 200mg
  • Energy drinks: Contains between 50 to 160mg
  • Brewed teas: May contain up to 120mg
  • Soft drinks: Contain up to 40mg
  • Cocoa beverages: Contain up to 7mg
  • Dark chocolate: Contains up to 35mg
  • Milk chocolate: Contains up to 15mg
  • Some drugs – e.g. pain relievers – can also contain high amounts of caffeine, make sure you check the list of ingredients

Can coffee cause heart problems?

Dr. Stephen Pollock, a cardiologist at the University of Maryland St. Joseph Medical Center, discusses how caffeine affects the heart. It’s a bit long, but it worths the time. Duration: 9:30

If you are a healthy adult and don’t drink too much coffee too often, then it’s unlikely that you develop cardiovascular problems because of caffeine.

A few small cups of coffee a day should be fine. Try to stay away from the huge cups that contain a lot of cream and sugar besides coffee.

Energy drinks also have high caffeine content, it’s best to avoid them if possible. This is especially if you are a teenager.

Bottom line is to make sure you are aware of the caffeine content of the beverages you are drinking. E.g. a large cup of Starbucks coffee might include close to 100% of the maximum recommended daily caffeine dose.

Can coffee cause chest pain?

Even though it’s not very common coffee and caffeine can cause chest pain. The two main reasons are heart problems and acid reflux.

To avoid heart problems, up to 400mg of caffeine a day seems to be safe for healthy adults, that is about 4 small cups or 2 energy drinks. However, it’s good to check how much caffeine your coffee contains, as some companies offer coffees with very high caffeine content.

If you have acid reflux, even one coffee might trigger your symptoms, especially if the coffee contains fatty milk or a lot of sugar.

Can coffee cause acid reflux?

Even though scientific studies about coffee and heartburn have mixed results, experience shows that coffee can cause heartburn.

Caffeinated beverages – coffee, some soft drinks, certain types of teas, etc. – can trigger acid reflux symptoms.

If you drink coffee with fatty milk or sugar or if you drink soda high in sugar, your reflux symptoms might just get worse.

Just like alcohol, coffee and caffeine can decrease the amount of pressure found in the LES (Lower Esophageal Sphincter).

When the LES functions well, it allows food to get into the stomach when you eat, but then closes up so the acid from the stomach will not creep back into the esophagus. If the LES is not functioning well, the acid from your stomach will start to leave the stomach and go up the throat, causing chest pain.

Caffeine can make the situation worse because it escalates the secretion of stomach acid. Caffeine will irritate the stomach because it stimulates the higher production of gastric acid.

This means that not only is the acid creeping into the throat because of a relaxed LES, but the stomach is also producing more acid.

A few great tips on how to reduce the acidity of your coffee. Duration: 1:49

How to stop chest pain from coffee?

If coffee or caffeine is causing you chest discomfort or other symptoms, it is best to limit your consumption.

However, if you have already had some caffeine and you now experience acid reflux, it is time to take action to reduce the amount of pain you feel in your chest. Some of the best options to use to reduce your acid reflux after consuming caffeine includes:

  • Drink apple cider vinegar: This can provide quick relief right away. Take it with water or on its own.
  • Baking soda with lukewarm water.
  • Raise the head up in your bed or make sure the upper body is elevated at least a bit to get comfort.
  • Avoid tight clothes because they can increase pressure on the stomach.
  • Some lavender or chamomile tea will help. Make sure it does not contain caffeine and mix with some licorice root powder.

Does coffee cause gas or bloating?

For the majority of people, it does not. However, if you are sensitive to caffeine, coffee might cause bloating.

Another reason why coffee might cause gas is because of the additional ingredients you might add to the coffee.

Milk or cream will cause symptoms for people with lactose intolerance, while the added sugar might aggravate reflux symptoms.

Pain in the middle of the chest after drinking coffee

Pain in the center of the chest after drinking coffee might feel like a heart attack, but it rarely is. (check out heart attack symptoms on heart.org)

Unless you had an excessive amount of coffee or already have heart problems, these conditions are more likely to cause chest pain in the middle:

  • acid reflux or heartburn
  • gallbladder attack
  • ulcer
  • esophageal spams, if the coffee was very hot or cold
  • coffee allergy

The most likely reason is heartburn. If stomach acids flow back into the esophagus and irritate it, you might feel that as a burning pain. Since the esophagus is around the center of the chest, you might feel this pain in the middle of your chest.

However, be sure to talk to your doctor to diagnose the exact cause.

Can you be allergic to coffee?

Although rare, people can have both caffeine allergy and sensitivity.

The main difference is that allergy can have more severe symptoms, like anaphylaxis, which requires immediate medical attention.

It is also possible that some other ingredients are causing you the symptoms. In case of drinking coffee, the most common culprits are milk and soy.

Sensitivity (also called intolerance) is a digestive problem, most common symptoms (but not all) are related to digestion:

  • diarrhea
  • stomach cramps
  • increased heartbeat or blood pressure

Allergic reactions are caused by the immune system, symptoms can be more severe:

  • chest pain
  • heart palpitations
  • vomiting
  • nausea
  • anaphylaxis

If you think you have a food allergy or intolerance, it is important to sort it out as soon as possible. You might visit an allergologist or go to a lab to get tested.

Final thoughts

Unless you drink way too much coffee, coffee-related chest pain should go away in a few hours.

However, if you experience sharp chest pain, the pain radiates into the arm, neck, or shoulders, you should call your doctor right away.

In case caffeine is causing you heart-related problems, you should always talk to your doctor.

If you know you have acid reflux and coffee or caffeine is triggering the symptoms, eliminating or at least radically decreasing the amount of coffee you drink will help.

90% of people in North America drink coffee on a daily basis, but only a few of them experience chest or stomach problems. It is not normal, to feel chest pain after drinking coffee, so if you are experiencing such chest discomfort, it is always a good idea to talk to your doctor!

Frequently asked questions

Why does drinking coffee make my heart hurt?

Most people think coffee causes them a heart attack, but it is usually not the case.

It’s good to know the common symptoms of a heart attack, if you are experiencing such symptoms, get medical help right away!

It is usually not your heart that hurts, but some other parts of the body, like your esophagus.

Can caffeine cause chest tightness?

Yes, it can. However, as mentioned above this is probably not related to your heart.

Chances are the chest discomfort is heartburn, caused by stomach acids seeping back into the esophagus and irritating its lining.

Is coffee bad for angina?

According to this study, it might have no effect at all.

However, if you have cardiovascular problems, you shouldn’t drink too much coffee, especially not in a short amount of time.

In case of heart problems, you should consult your doctor before drinking coffee.