Chest pain is characterized as any pain in and around the chest. Chest pain symptoms can take on many different forms, such as sharp or dull, aching or stabbing. Chest pain is not indicative of any one illness. Though most people associate chest pain with a heart attack, chest pain can be a symptom of any number of medical conditions. If you are experiencing chest pain of any kind contact your doctor or call emergency services.
What Is Chest Pain?
Chest pain is described as any sense of ache or pain located in the forward facing body, between the upper part of the stomach area and the neck. Because chest pain can be difficult to evaluate, and because there may be many causes for chest pain, it is important to seek medical attention. Although not all chest pain is serious, there are conditions involving the heart and lungs that can be quite serious and even life threatening when associated with chest pain.
Is It A Sign Of A Heart Attack?
Chest pain is one of many symptoms associated with a heart attack. If you are experiencing chest pain accompanied by pain radiating up through your arm and possibly into your neck and lower jaw, you may be having a heart attack and should seek medical attention immediately. It is important to note that heart attack may not present with just chest pain. If you are feeling out of sorts, tired, have shortness of breath, vomiting and/ or sweating, call emergency services right away; these may be possible signs of a heart attack.
What Else Can Cause Chest Pain?
Chest pain, although most commonly recognized as a symptom of a heart attack, can be associated with a variety of illnesses. If you have a sudden onset of chest pain, seek medical attention right away. Other medical conditions of which chest pain is a symptom include:
- Aortic Dissection: a tear in the side of the aorta, which causes abrupt severe pain in the chest and back.
- Pericarditis: an inflammation of the surrounding area of the heart, causing discomfort in the middle of the chest.
- Pulmonary Embolism: a blood clot in the lung.
- Traumatic Pneumothorax: a collapsed lung.
- Pleurisy: swelling of the lining outside the lungs; can cause chest pain that worsens when breathing in.
- Pneumonia: infection of the lungs which will also present itself with severe coughing.
- Anxiety or Panic Attack: may include rapid breathing and a sense of impending doom.
- Gallstones: crystalized stones in the gallbladder.
- Heartburn: regurgitation of gastric acid; also associated with acid reflux.
- Peptic Ulcers: open sore or wound in the stomach.
How Can I Tell The Difference?
It can be difficult to distinguish serious chest pain associated with a heart problem from that of a less severe condition. When chest pain is related to a heart problem, it is most often described as a tightening pain, almost as if your chest is in a vice.
In addition, it may be coupled with sweating, nausea or vomiting and is sometimes described as a severe pain that lasts several minutes, leaves and then returns. Chest pain associated with other non-heart related conditions may have other accompanying symptoms such as:
- A bad taste in the mouth
- Difficulty swallowing
- Tenderness to touch
- Pain that improves or worsens when changing positions
If you are experiencing chest pain of any kind, with or without other symptoms, it is important to contact your doctor or call emergency services if necessary.
When To Contact Your doctor
If you have new or sudden chest pain that is not associated with a pre-existing condition, seek medical attention right away. If you believe you may be having a heart attack contact emergency services immediately. Do not ignore your symptoms, if you are having chest pain of any kind, no matter the degree of severity, contact your doctor.
In order to get to the root of your chest pain, your doctor may order a variety of diagnostic tests to help determine the cause for your condition. Some tests used to help diagnosis the basis of chest pain may include:
- ECG, or electrocardiogram, is a test used to measure and record the electrical activity in your heart, which may be able to tell if a heart attack has occurred or is in progress.
- Blood Tests will be done to check the blood for enzymes produced by the heart following heart attack or heart trauma.
- Chest X-rays will be performed to view the size and shape of your heart and to rule out any lung conditions that may be responsible for your chest pain.
Depending upon the results of the initial tests, your doctor may require you to undergo further testing. Further testing may include:
- Echocardiogram, which uses sound waves to view the heart and check for abnormalities.
- CT Scan, which is helpful in viewing the arteries of the heart and/or lungs to rule out any clots.
- MRI, which may be utilized to look for any damage to the heart.
- Stress Test, which evaluates how your heart responds to exertion.
- Angiogram or Coronary Catheterization, which helps to determine if there is any narrowing of the blood vessels, or discover any blockages.
Treatment options will differ depending upon what the testing reveals and what the diagnosis is. Medications used to treat common causes for chest pain include:
- Nitroglycerin, which relaxes the arteries
- Blood thinners
- Drugs to destroy clots
- Anti-anxiety medication
In addition to drug therapy, it may be necessary to undergo a surgical procedure to treat more severe causes of chest pain. Surgical procedures may include:
- Balloons and stents to treat blocked arteries.
- Bypass surgery to generate a new way for blood to flow around a blocked artery.
- Repair to the aorta following an aortic dissection.
- Lung inflation after suffering a collapsed lung.
Home Care Options
If you are experiencing chest pain you should contact a medical professional before treating yourself at home. Once it is determined that you are not in the midst of a life threatening crisis, home care may be an effective treatment option for you. If your chest pain is the result of an injury, excessive coughing or muscle strain, it may be helpful for you to rest, use ice or heat as needed and take acetaminophen for pain. If you have asthma or another medical condition that has already been diagnosed by your doctor, treat it as prescribed. Call emergency services immediately if you think you may be having a heart attack.
Chest pain may be caused by a wide variety of things. If you are having chest pain the only sure way to determine the cause is to seek medical attention. There is no definitive way to tell whether your chest pain is the result of a life threatening condition other than to see a doctor. If you suspect your life is in danger contact emergency services immediately.