So it goes as follows: You chew, swallow without any problem and then right after there’s an odd pain in your right chest that lasts a few seconds.
The brief pain isn’t sharp, stabbing or piercing. It may even be subtle, but what’s scary is that this isn’t supposed to happen when you swallow food or liquids.
Swallowing your favorite foods – be they meat, bread, potatoes, rice, pasta or muffins – should not come with a mysterious pain or sensation anywhere in your chest, even if it lasts a single second.
This oddball symptom doesn’t care what kind of food you’re eating. It could be a salad, a peach or apple, grapes or steamed vegetables.
In fact, that right side chest pain or ache even occurs right after you swallow water.
What the devil is going on?
You’ve never had this problem before – at least you don’t ever recall it. And what’s really strange is that it’s to the right of your breastbone.
Your esophagus – the so-called food pipe – is right behind your breastbone, which means the esophagus is in the center or midline of your chest.
However, the process of food going down your esophagus is obviously part of the equation, because this pain does not occur under any other circumstance – not when you:
• Take a deep breath
• Exhale deeply
• Cough or sneeze
• Exert yourself
• Press your fingers to the area
If you’ve deduced that it’s esophageal in origin, you are absolutely correct.
Now…the issue is just WHAT EXACTLY is going on with your esophagus.
You must re-evaluate what’s been going on recently to have led to this brief pain in the right side of your chest after you swallow food or beverages.
Have you recently swallowed some pills?
“Chest pain that occurs after swallowing can be due to pill esophagitis, but could also be due to esophageal spasm,” says Alan Gingold, DO, a board certified gastroenterologist with the Digestive Healthcare Center of NJ.
“Esophageal spasm can last from a few seconds to minutes or more.
“There is also something called globus sensation which is usually due to acid reflux.
“The area in the esophagus becomes irritated due to acid exposure, and then when a person swallows, they often feel like something is sitting in their throat [or chest].
“Pill esophagitis is a common cause of transient throat [or chest] pain.
“The pain usually occurs when the food is passing over the irritated area, and then it usually goes away until a person swallows again.”
What if you take pills every day but now suddenly have this right side chest pain after swallowing?
Pill esophagitis can occur just as easily in an individual who’s been taking pills or capsules for many years as it can in someone who’s not used to swallowing pills.
The food pipe does not build up a resistance to the possibility of irritation.
Thus, being a veteran pill-taker does not make one immune to pill esophagitis.
The problem can occur from just sheer chance – the way the pills or capsules move down your esophagus on that particular day.
I’ve been taking supplement pills and capsules for many, many years, but I’ve had what seemed to be pill esophagitis (transient symptoms) perhaps three times in all those years.
The first few times, the symptom was only a stuck feeling in my chest throughout the day and maybe into the next day. There were no issues with swallowing food or drinking fluids.
But the last time I had a chest issue that was associated with eating or drinking was a few days after taking some pills.
During that period in my life, I had become lax with my supplement regimen. I was taking them only a few times a week.
I began experiencing a mild pain in the right side of my chest after I swallowed food or drink. It lasted one or two seconds.
It was no coincidence that just a few days prior, I’d taken several pills. I thought, that’s got to be it!
Interestingly, the pain did not occur with every meal or snack. But for 10 days, at least one meal or snack per day resulted in that right side, but mild, chest pain that was triggered by food going down.
The fact that it lasted only one or two seconds and came at NO other time and with no other symptoms was further reinforcement of my self-assessment.
Then it was gone after 10 days, just like that (and during those 10 days I had not taken any pills).
But why would pill esophagitis, or acid reflux for that matter, radiate pain to the right of the esophagus?
Often, pain does not occur at the exact site of origin.
Anyone who’s had rotator cuff problems knows this all too well. Pain referral is also common with headaches originating from the neck area, and arm pain originating from a heart attack. In fact, acid reflex can even cause pain in the back.
If you feel perfectly fine, especially during strenuous exercise, despite chest discomfort immediately after you swallow food or beverages, you should not lose sleep over this if it’s new-onset.
But … if it doesn’t go away, then you should see a doctor, as there are multiple possible causes.
An ulcer, scar tissue from chronic acid reflux, a hernia, and very rarely – esophageal cancer – can be a cause.
If any of these are causes, the situation will not go away and, in fact, will get worse (e.g., difficulty eating/swallowing, regurgitation of food, chest pain without eating, nausea, vomiting blood).
Dr. Gingold attributes his success to the extra time he spends with his patients. His areas of expertise include reflux disease, Barrett’s esophagus, capsule endoscopy, chronic liver disease and inflammatory bowel disease.
Lorra Garrick has been covering medical, fitness and cybersecurity topics for many years, having written thousands of articles for print magazines and websites, including as a ghostwriter. She’s also a former ACE-certified personal trainer.