Chest pain immediately after cold drinks is not rare, and it is often caused due to a sudden spasm of the food pipe (esophagus), a frightening but not life-threatening condition.
Can cold drinks and foods cause chest pain?
In most cases, esophageal problems cause a sudden, sharp pain around the center of the chest immediately after drinking cold drinks.
Chest pain is often associated with a heart condition. However, chest pain due to non-cardiac reasons is not rare.
Possible causes of sudden chest or upper stomach pain after cold drinks:
- The primary cause of such a sudden pain mimicking heart attack is due to esophageal spasm.
- Depressed contractions and motor activity in the esophagus.
- Another possible, but less likely cause is a food allergy. Allergic reactions usually occur right after consuming food or drink that contains the allergens (or within a few minutes).
- Acid reflux or GERD can also cause sharp pain in the center of the chest (called heartburn). However, heartburn usually needs a bit more time to develop.
Esophageal spasms after cold food or drink
The food pipe carries food from the mouth to the stomach. It is a muscular organ and just like any muscle, the esophagus can also go into spasms.
When the food is ingested, it travels via the esophagus to the stomach with the help of the so-called peristaltic movement. However, sudden spasm in esophageal muscles may cause severe pain that may greatly resemble heart pain and cause panic in some.
Regretfully, very little is known about why some individuals are prone to this kind of chest pain. It appears that in some people, it occurs due to faulty nerves. It means that nerves in the esophagus are just too sensitive to sudden changes in temperature.
Decreased motor activity
A study examining people rapidly eating cold ice cream until chest pain was produced concluded:
“Our studies indicate that ingestion of cold liquids significantly depresses peristaltic amplitudes and frequency of peristalsis in normal persons, and pain is associated with complete absence of motor activity in the body of the esophagus, rather than esophageal “spasm” as commonly believed.”
A less likely but possible cause of chest pain after cold drinks, that not the temperature is the culprit, but one or more ingredients in the drink, that trigger allergic reactions.
Other common symptoms in this case are:
- rashes, hives
- itchy skin, eyes
- swollen lips, face, tongue
In rare cases, food allergy might cause anaphylaxis, a very severe breathing problem that requires immediate help.
Reflux after cold drinks
Studies show a high association between chest pain after cold drinks and the presence of GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease).
Erosion of the upper layer of the esophagus is present in many GERD cases.
It means that people who have the problem of acidity and heartburn are relatively more prone to the condition.
Moreover, such pain may indicate severe esophageal erosion due to gastric acids.
What does chest pain after a cold drink feel like?
Although pain may be sudden and severe in some instances, in most cases, it would not last long.
The pain is generally felt in the center of the chest, around the heart. Therefore some people might think they have a heart attack.
However, other symptoms of a heart attack – like radiating pain into the arm, shoulder, or jaw – would be absent.
Further, the pain would be less severe than a heart attack in most cases. It would be more like heartburn.
There could be other symptoms like:
- difficulty in swallowing
- lump in the throat
- regurgitation, especially if one continues to drink
Chest pain after a cold drink tends to reoccur in people prone to it. However, in most cases, the severity of pain may vary during every episode.
Diagnosing the cause of issues like esophageal spasm is challenging, it often takes quite long, even for medical specialists.
More severe cases can be diagnosed with the help of imaging. Doctors would also use an electrocardiogram to exclude heart disease.
Some of the common imaging methods used by doctors are x-ray using contrast media (barium) or endoscopy.
These methods may help detect abnormalities of esophageal movement in response to cold drinks. These tests may also help diagnose GERD or other gastric issues.
Fortunately, most people would not need treatment for the condition.
In most cases, slowly sipping the cold drinks may be enough to avoid the problem.
For people with GERD, treatment of acid reflux may also help prevent future episodes of such pain.
Among the home remedies, peppermint oil is the most effective one. Clinical studies show that a few drops of peppermint oil may help relieve the spasm and thus provide almost instant relief.
In rare cases, doctors may need to use more severe medications that alter the working of faulty nerves. In addition, in some people, spasms and pain may be severe and last longer, thus requiring medical attention.
Rapid chest pain after a cold drink may occur in some people. The most common causes are esophageal issues, but food allergies or acid reflux might also be the trigger.
Faulty nerves in the food pipe may cause sudden spasms in response to cold sensations. Such a condition may mimic a pain characteristic of a heart attack. Fortunately, esophageal spams are rarely a cause of worry.
Most cases would improve with certain precautions and home remedies. However, in case of severe pain or if the pain doesn’t go away, medical attention might be required.
Frequently asked questions
How can one prevent chest pain after a cold drink?
It seems that preventing the condition altogether is quite tricky in many cases. Avoiding cold drinks or sipping them very slowly and not suddenly seems to be the best way to go.
Is chest pain after cold drinks dangerous?
In most cases, it is not dangerous but still a painful condition. However, in some instances, the spasm may last quite a long, causing severe discomfort. Fortunately, such a severe condition is quite rare.
Additionally, such pain may indicate GERD or some other esophagus issue. Thus, if the conditions keep repeating, it is always a good idea to seek medical attention.
What is the prognosis of the condition?
In most cases, the prognosis is good. It means that problem may disappear with time. In many, it may disappear by treating the underlying problem like GERD.
However, it is worth understanding that it may be severe in sporadic cases, requiring even prolonged medical or surgical treatment.
Should I call a doctor in chest pain after a cold drink?
Chest pain may also occur due to a heart attack. Thus, call a doctor if signs like heaviness in the chest, shoulder or neck pain, dizziness, difficulty breathing, cold sweats, or nausea are present.