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Chest Pain

By eHealthIQ
Reviewed: April 05, 2013

Overview and Facts

Chest pain can be a scary thing to experience. In fact, it accounts for one of the most common reasons people call for emergency medical attention. The worry that it may be a heart attack causes serious concern when chest pain is experienced. However, chest pain can be brought on by a wide range of factors and doesn’t always indicate a heart attack.

Signs and Symptoms

Chest pain can be related to heart problems, but it is possible that a non-cardiac issue is causing the pain in the chest. The symptoms of chest pain vary based on whether or not it is related to a cardiac problem:

Chest pain symptoms related to cardiac problems:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Pressure or tightness in the chest
  • Pain that relates to neck, back, jaw and left arm
  • Sweating
  • Dizziness
  • Pain that may go away and come back

Chest pain symptoms related to non-cardiac problems:

  • Trouble swallowing
  • Sour taste in mouth
  • Burning sensation near sternum
  • Pain that worsens when you breathe deeply

Causes and Diagnosis

Chest pain can be caused by a number of different health issues, from heart problems to digestive problems. The following is a list of different health issues that can cause chest pain:

Heart problems:

  • Angina – tight, squeezing pain that results from restricted blood flow and oxygen to the heart, caused by narrowed arteries
  • Heart attack – pain is similar to angina, but more severe; occurs as the result of a blood clot that blocks flow of blood to the heart
  • Aortic dissection – causes sudden, tearing pain in the back and chest; occurs when layers of the aorta separate and blood is forced to flow between them
  • Pericarditis – causes pain in the center of chest; occurs as a result of the inflammation in the heart tissue, often caused by an infection

Digestive problems:

  • Heartburn – also known as gastroesophageal reflux or GERD, this causes a burning sensation as a result of stomach acid that goes from the stomach into the esophagus
  • Gallbladder problems – gallstones can cause abdominal pain that expands into the chest
  • Stomach ulcer – burning pain when the stomach is empty
  • Hiatal hernia – causes chest pain and heartburn; occurs when part of the stomach slides into the chest

Lung and respiratory problems:

  • Pulmonary embolism – causes sharp chest pain that worsens when you cough or take a deep breath; occurs as a result of a blood clot in the lung that blocks blood flow to lung tissue
  • Pneumonia – causes sharp chest pain that worsens when you cough or take a deep breath
  • Pleurisy – causes sharp chest pain that worsens when you cough or take a deep breath; occurs when the lining of the lung becomes inflamed

Musculoskeletal problems:

  • Fibromyalgia – chronic pain syndromes like this, along with other sore muscles, can produce chest pain
  • Injured ribs – a bruised rib, or even a pinched nerve, can cause pain in the chest
  • Costochondritis – this chest pain is caused when the cartilage of the rib cage becomes inflamed

Because there are so many different health problems that can cause chest pain, it is important to see a doctor if you have unexplained chest pain or pain that you have never experienced before. If you have symptoms that you think may be a heart attack, call for emergency help immediately. Do not try and drive yourself to the hospital – being in the presence of emergency personnel could save your life.

When you see a doctor for your chest pain, your vital signs, including blood pressure, temperature and pulse will be checked first. Doctors always want to first check for signs of a heart attack since it is an immediate threat to your life. You may also be asked questions about your chest pain, when it occurs, how it feels and whether or not you have any other health issues.

Tests and Treatment Options

There are different diagnostic tests that can determine the cause of the chest pain. These include the following:

  • Blood tests – looks for increased levels of some enzymes
  • Chest X-ray – used to look for anything abnormal in the lungs, heart and blood vessels
  • Electrocardiogram (ECG) – records electrical activity in the heart to see if patterns are normal
  • Echocardiogram – creates a video image of the heart
  • Cardiac catheterization – a thin catheter is inserted into the heart to get a closer look

Treatment for chest pain depends on the nature of the chest pain and what it is related to. If your chest pain is related to a problem in the heart, you doctor may prescribe any of the following as a treatment method:

  • Aspirin – can be especially helpful when taken during a heart attack as it inhibits blood clotting and helps blood flow through narrowed arteries
  • Other drugs – these include nitroglycerin, beta blockers, angiotensin-converting enzymes, calcium channel blockers and thrombolytics

If your chest pain is not related to a problem in the heart, you doctor may prescribe different methods of treatment:

  • Heartburn – stomach acid blocker or antacid will help ease chest pain due to heartburn
  • Gallbladder problems – surgery may be recommended or required to ease chest pain due to gallbladder problems
  • Injured ribs or pinched nerves – usually no medication is given to remedy the chest pain caused, it usually improves on its own over time
  • Pleurisy – a doctor will usually treat the disease such as pneumonia that might have caused pleurisy, and the chest pain usually subsides with that treatment

Helpful Tips and Home Remedies

Chest pain as a result of heart diseases and other health issues can be prevented by following a healthy lifestyle:

  • Maintain a healthy weight
  • Avoid high amounts of saturated fats and cholesterol in foods
  • Exercise on a regular basis
  • Don’t smoke
  • Keep blood pressure and cholesterol levels under control
  • Practice de-stressing techniques when you get stresse

References

  • http://www.webmd.com/heart-disease/tc/chest-pain-topic-overview
  • http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/chest-pain/DS00016
  • http://www.medicinenet.com/chest_pain/article.htm
  • http://heartdisease.about.com/cs/coronarydisease/a/CP1.htm
  • http://www.nhs.uk/conditions/chest-pain

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