Chest pain is one of the top reasons people go to the emergency room. You may feel a dull aching sensation, pressure across the chest, sharp, or stabbing pain. The intensity, duration, location, and quality of chest pain is different for every person who is experiencing it.
Chest pain can be caused by a number of factors ranging from serious heart-related conditions to causes that are not as life-threatening.
Chest pain can be caused by several different factors, so you need to know what signs to look for to distinguish whether or not it’s associated with your heart. The symptoms below can help your doctor determine if it is a heart-related issue.
♦ Chest pressure
♦ Shortness of breath
♦ Pain during exertion
Women, in particular, have reported unusual symptoms. Chest pain in women can be accompanied by back, jaw and neck pain, dizziness, nausea, and abdominal pain. Cold sweats are also common symptoms for heart attacks when accompanied by chest pain, especially in men.
Symptoms that indicate the chest pain is not related to the heart include:
♦ Chest pain after eating
♦ Pain accompanied by a rash
♦ A sour taste in your mouth
♦ Aches and chills
♦ Chest pain when coughing
It is common to think that chest pain is a sign of a heart attack, and while this may be the case, there are additional reasons you can experience chest pain.
Only 13 percent of visits to the emergency room for chest pain results in a heart-related diagnosis. Understanding heart-related causes of chest pain are important for an accurate diagnosis and treatment plan.
♦ Abnormal heart rhythms: When your heart beats too fast or too slow, you have an arrhythmia. These abnormal heart rhythms are not generally life-threatening, but they require medical attention in the event they are caused by an underlying heart condition or disease.
♦ Angina: This is a type of chest pain that is caused by reduced blood flow to the heart and is a symptom of coronary heart disease and presents as a crushing pain in the middle of the chest.
♦ Atherosclerosis: The buildup of fatty deposits known as plaques cause atherosclerosis. These plaques block arteries and disrupt blood flow and blood pressure. Arteries can become damaged and even burst if this is not treated, and your heart can be deprived of essential oxygen.
♦ Cardiac tamponade: This condition is marked by the accumulation of fluid in the pericardial space and requires immediate medical attention. Complications such as pulmonary edema, shock, and even death can occur without prompt treatment.
♦ Cor pulmonale: When blood pressure is high in the pulmonary arteries, this condition can develop. This is also known as right-sided heart failure, as the right ventricle swells too large and cannot pump blood effectively. Ultimately the left ventricle fails.
♦ Heart attack: The blood supply that nourishes the heart with oxygen is cut off, causing heart tissues and muscles to start dying. This requires immediate medical attention, as urgent care may be necessary. Without treatment, heart attacks can lead to heart failure.
♦ High blood pressure: Hypertension does not always have symptoms, but when your heart has to work under pressure for a long time, chest pain can occur along with other serious conditions. Untreated hypertension can cause serious damage to your arteries and eventually your heart.
♦ Hypertensive heart disease: This is a collection of heart diseases caused by high blood pressure. When the heart is working under increased pressure, several serious problems can occur, such as thickening of heart muscles, heart failure, and coronary artery disease. Chest pain may be your first sign of a problem.
♦ Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy: This is a condition where the heart muscle (myocardium) becomes thicker than normal and causes disruption to regular blood flow. This can develop slowly or suddenly, and in most cases, people can live normal lives.
♦ Ischemic cardiomyopathy: This occurs when your heart is weakened after a heart attack or coronary artery disease. Your left ventricle becomes enlarged as a result and becomes weak, preventing it from pumping blood effectively. The ultimate result without treatment will be heart failure.
♦ Myocarditis: Also known as viral heart disease, myocarditis is caused by a viral infection. The virus attacks your heart muscle, causes inflammation, and disrupts electrical signaling from the heart. The inflammation weakens the heart, and the inability to signal properly increases your risk for abnormal heart rhythms and heart failure.
♦ Pericarditis: Pericarditis is marked by sharp chest pains, made worse with deep breathing. The pain is a result of inflamed pericardial muscle walls surrounding the heart. As the inflamed muscle rubs against the ribs in the chest cavity, pain is the outcome. Pericarditis is chronic but also rare.
♦ Pulmonary Embolism: This is a blood clot that occurs in your lungs, which causes restricted airflow and reduced oxygen levels in the blood. This affects the lungs as well as other organs, including the heart. While not directly related to the heart, a pulmonary embolism is a serious condition requiring immediate medical help, and chest pain is a common symptom to watch for.
Other common causes of chest pain are related to the lungs and the digestive system.
♦ Gastrointestinal causes: acid reflux, gallstones, esophageal disorders, and inflammation of the pancreas.
♦ Lung-related causes: Pneumonia, a blood clot, viral bronchitis, pneumothorax (leaking air from your lungs), and bronchospasm (air passage constriction common with asthma and COPD).
If you are experiencing chest pain, it is important to seek medical care immediately, in the event the cause is heart-related and serious.
If your chest pain is new and unexplained, then it is always advised to see a doctor right away. Your doctor will need to know how long you have had the pain and the severity and location. Your medical history, as well as a list of current medications, is also important to share.
The doctor will also likely run a few tests to determine the cause of the chest pain.
♦ EKG (electrocardiogram) will record the electrical activity of your heart
♦ Chest x-ray to look at your lungs, heart, and blood vessels
♦ MRI scan to check for damage to the aorta or heart
♦ Blood tests to evaluate enzyme levels
♦ Stress tests to measure the heart’s function after exertion
♦ Angiograms to look specifically for blocked arteries
The cause of your chest pain will be treated according to the underlying cause. In most cases, medication and noninvasive measures are used as well as a combination of these two methods.
Chest pain related to lung issues can be treated by re-inflating a collapsed lung. Antacids are used to treat chest pains caused by acid reflux, and medications to reduce anxiety can help in anxiety-related cases.
Treatment for heart-related causes of chest pain include:
♦ Medications such as blood thinners, clot-busting drugs, and nitroglycerin, which open partially closed arteries.
♦ Cardiac catheterization uses balloons and stents to open blocked arteries.
♦ Surgery may also be needed to repair damaged arteries. A coronary artery bypass is the most common procedure done with heart-related causes of chest pain.
Some underlying causes of chest pain will require medical attention and even surgery. There are also natural treatments that can reduce the risk of chest pain and help relieve symptoms. If you are at risk for heart conditions, these natural ingredients can help protect your heart.
♦ Chromium: Chest pain is a symptom of a heart attack. Conditions such as atherosclerosis and high blood pressure increase the risk of a heart attack. Both high blood pressure and high cholesterol can be naturally treated with chromium.
♦ Niacin: Also known as vitamin B3, niacin is essential for heart health. Niacin works to naturally lower cholesterol levels, reduce blood pressure, and stabilize blood glucose levels. High blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood glucose all increase the risk for heart disease, of which chest pain is a major symptom.
♦ Capsicum extract: This fruit extract is proven to enhance circulation and improve the health of blood vessels. Elevated blood pressure causes chest pain and can be a sign of unhealthy blood vessel circulation. By promoting blood vessel health, capsicum extract ensures that the heart tissues get the nutrients they need, which reduces your risk of heart disease.
♦ Red Yeast Rice: The key compound in red yeast rice, monacolin K, is the same ingredient found in cholesterol-lowering medications. Red yeast rice is a natural and more cost-effective way to treat high cholesterol and prevent heart disease.
Because the causes of chest pain can vary from mild to more serious, the outcomes will also vary. Chest pain is commonly caused by gastrointestinal issues such as acid reflux as well as anxiety.
If there is a more life-threatening condition related to your heart, the outlook depends on how quickly the pain is treated. You should seek immediate medical attention for any sharp pains in the chest or sharp pain in the left side of your chest cavity, so that heart conditions can be treated immediately.