What is chest pain?
but it can also be a symptom of problems related to:
- bones and muscles
- other aspects of physical and mental health
Signs of a medical emergency
- shortness of breath
- a cold sweat
If these symptoms last for five minutes or more, you should call your local emergency services. You may be having a heart attack. Heart attack can also cause pain in the jaw, neck, back, or arms.
What causes chest pain?
When you have chest pain, your first thought may be that you’re having a heart attack. While chest pain is a well-established sign of a heart attack, it can also be caused by many other less serious conditions.
For example, if you:
- are very overweight (obese)
- have high blood pressure, diabetes or high cholesterol
- have a history of heart attacks or angina in family members under 60 years old
About 13 % of all emergency room (ER) visits for chest pain result in a diagnosis of a serious heart-related problem, according to the National Center for Health Studies (NCHS).
Heart-related causes of chest pain
- heart attack, which is a blockage of blood flow to the heart
- angina, which is chest pain caused by blockages in the blood vessels leading to your heart
- pericarditis, which is an inflammation of the sac around the heart
- myocarditis, which is an inflammation of the heart muscle
- cardiomyopathy, which is a disease of the heart muscle
- aortic dissection, which is a rare condition involving a tear of the aorta, the large vessel that comes off of the heart.
- acid reflux, or heartburn
- swallowing problems related to disorders of the esophagus
- inflammation of the gallbladder or pancreas
- viral bronchitis
- a blood clot, or pulmonary embolus
Bronchospasms commonly occur in people who have asthma and related disorders such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
Muscle- or bone-related
The following are related to the muscles or bones:
- bruised or broken ribs
- sore muscles from exertion or chronic pain syndromes
- compression fractures causing pressure on a nerve
Shingles can cause chest pain. You may develop pain along your back or chest before the shingles rash becomes apparent.
What symptoms may occur?
You may have other symptoms that occur with chest pain. Identifying symptoms you may be having can help your doctor make a diagnosis. These include:
While pain is the most common symptom of a heart problem, some people experience other symptoms, with or without pain. Women, in particular, have reported unusual symptoms that later have been identified as being the result of a heart condition:
- chest pressure or tightness
- back, jaw, or arm pain
- shortness of breath
- abdominal pain
- pain during exertion
Symptoms that may include:
- a sour or acidic taste in your mouth
- pain that only occurs after you swallow or eat
- difficulty swallowing
- pain that’s better or worse depending on your body position
- pain that’s worse when you breathe deeply or cough
- pain accompanied by a rash
- runny nose
- feelings of panic or anxiety
- back pain that radiates to the front of your chest
How to diagnosed it?
Seek emergency treatment immediately if you think you may be having a heart attack and especially if your pain is new, unexplained, or lasts more than a few moments.
Your doctor will ask you some questions, and your answers can help them diagnose the cause of your chest pain. Be prepared to discuss any related symptoms and to share information about any medications, treatments, or other medical conditions you may have.
Your doctor may order tests to help diagnose or eliminate heart-related problems as a cause of your pain. These may include:
- an electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG), which records your heart’s electrical activity
- blood tests, which measure enzyme levels
- a chest X-ray, which is used to examine your heart, lungs, and blood vessels
- an echocardiogram, which uses sound waves to record moving images of the heart
- an MRI, which is used to look for damage to the heart or aorta
- stress tests, which are used to measure your heart function after exertion
- an angiogram, which is used to look for blockages in specific arteries.
How is chest pain treated?
Your doctor might treat such disease with medication, noninvasive procedures, surgery, or a combination of these methods. Treatment depends on the cause and severity of your chest pain.
Treatments for heart-related causes include:
- medications, which may include nitroglycerin and other medications that open partially closed arteries, clot-busting drugs, or blood thinners
- cardiac catheterization, which may involve using balloons or stents to open blocked arteries
- surgical repair of the arteries, which is also known as coronary artery bypass grafting or bypass surgery
Treatments for other causes of chest pain include:
- lung re-inflation for a collapsed lung, which your doctor will perform by inserting a chest tube or related device
- antacids or certain procedures for acid reflux and heartburn, which are used to treat the symptoms.
- anti-anxiety medications, which are used to treat chest pain related to panic attacks
What is the outlook for people with chest pain?
Your doctor can treat and resolve pain caused by many common conditions. These may include acid reflux, anxiety attacks, and asthma or related disorders.