Almost everyone suffers from chest pain at one point in our lives. Over 8 million Americans go to the emergency room each year because of chest pain.
Chest pain is any discomfort that occurs around the torso between the upper abdomen and the lower part of the neck. While several people experiencing chest pain may suspect the onset of myocardial infarction (heart attack), this condition has several causes.
Most causes of chest pain may be non-serious; however, other reasons may be life-threatening. Life-threatening conditions may warrant emergency visits to a hospital, so taking chest pain seriously and consulting your doctor for proper diagnosis and treatment is wise.
Causes of Chest Pain
Causes of chest pain vary depending on the underlying conditions. You may experience chest pain as a symptom of minor ailments such as indigestion and stress or serious medical emergencies such as heart attack or pulmonary embolism.
Other potential causes of chest pain include:
Anxiety is your body’s response to stressors and one of the most common causes of chest pain. When you experience chest pain due to an anxiety attack, you should consider it a signal to avoid known triggers rather than a sign of a heart attack.
Costochondritis is an inflammation of the joints in your chest and a common cause of chest pain. You may experience mild discomfort, which may worsen when you take a deep breath or cough.
Generally, Costochondritis resolves without treatment; however, your doctor may prescribe anti-inflammatory medication to relieve pain and ease discomfort.
3. Angina pectoris
Do you experience a squeezing sensation in your chest accompanied by pain after engaging in physical activities? If so, you may be suffering from angina pectoris. Angina pectoris occurs when a limited flow of blood and oxygen to the heart muscles (myocardium).
Pericarditis is an inflammation of the heart tissues (pericardium). The irritation and swelling of the pericardium can cause chest pain.
5. Acid reflux
The pain in the chest can also indicate acid reflux or heartburn. Acid reflux occurs when stomach acids back up to the esophagus and causes irritation to the esophagus lining.
6. Heart attack
Blood clots can cause heart attacks by blocking the normal flow of blood to the heart. This can cause pressure, fullness, or crushing pain in the chest lasting more than a few minutes.
7. Pulmonary Embolism
Pulmonary embolism usually occurs during pregnancy and in bedridden patients. An embolism occurs when a blood clot lodges in an artery, preventing blood flow to the lungs. This condition can be life-threatening and can result in persistent chest pain.
Symptoms of Chest Pain
Symptoms of chest pain vary depending on the source and underlying condition. Here are some common symptoms of chest pain:
- Shortness of breath
- Cold sweats
- Dizziness or weakness
- Nausea or vomiting
- Chest pain exacerbated by coughing or breathing deeply
- Chest tenderness
Chest pain may be an indication of a pending or occurring heart attack.
The signs and symptoms of a heart attack may start slowly, or they may happen suddenly. When you have any doubt about the cause of your chest pain, you should seek medical treatment immediately.
Depending on your symptoms, your doctor will perform a physical examination. Your doctor may ask questions and review your medical records to help diagnose the cause of your chest pain.
Among the tests your doctor may order are
- An electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG)
- Blood test for detecting your enzyme level
- An MRI, CT-scan, and angiogram
- Stress test to measure your heart function
Your doctor might treat chest pain with medication, noninvasive procedures, surgery, or a combination of these methods. Treatment for chest pain varies depending on the severity of your condition.
If your pain is mild and caused by anxiety or acid reflux, your doctor may prescribe anti-anxiety drugs and antacids to aid the discomfort. If a heart-related condition causes the pain, your doctor may use a stent to open blocked arteries or a coronary artery bypass to repair damaged arteries.
It’s not always easy to know when your chest pain may require immediate medical attention, so it is only appropriate to visit a doctor for a diagnosis. Only then can they recommend the best treatment to manage your condition.