When should you be concerned about chest pain?
Chest pain is a common symptom of a heart attack, but it can also be a sign of other health problems. In fact, only 6% of people who come to the ER due to chest pain end up being diagnosed with cardiac problems. Learn when it’s important to see emergency medical care and when your chest pain is likely due to something else.
Chest Pain Associated with Cardiac Problems
Chest pain is one of the classic symptoms of a heart attack, though not everyone who has a heart attack experiences this type of pain. People who have had a heart attack often describe the pain as a sudden onset of diffuse pain, squeezing sensation, or pressure in the chest. The pain may radiate into the arms, back, neck, jaw, or stomach. Often, people having a heart attack also have shortness of breath, a cold sweat, nausea, and lightheadedness. Many heart disease patients also say they had brief episodes of chest pain or other symptoms in the weeks or months preceding the actual event.
Types of Chest Pain Due to Something Other than a Heart Attack
Chest pain is a nonspecific symptom, meaning it does not mean that you are definitely having a heart attack or a specific medical condition. Consider these types of chest pain, which often have non-cardiac causes:
Pinpoint pain that gets worse in different positions. Heart pain is usually diffuse, meaning that it is general and may spread to other areas. If you have a sharp, stabbing pain in a specific point of your chest, it may be something else. The discomfort that changes with breathing or your position (i.e., when you lie down or sit up) is more likely to involve your lungs. This type of pain might be pneumonia, asthma, or a sign of lung inflammation.
Momentary discomfort. Sudden “shocks” of pain are likely due to nerve pain, or an injury such as a pulled muscle or cracked rib.
Pain with a drooping face or muscle weakness. Facial drooping or weakness on one side of your body are common stroke symptoms.
Chest pain with dizziness, racing thoughts, and flushed feeling. Heart attack pain is usually accompanied by a cold sweat. If you feel flushed, sweaty, and have racing thoughts, you may be having a panic attack.
Chest pain that gets better with exercise. Physical activity makes heart attack pain worse, not better. If your pain improves with activity, it may be due to acid reflux.
What to Do If You Have Sudden Chest Pain
Whenever you have a sudden onset of chest pain that persists for more than a few minutes, it’s critical to seek professional help. Call 911 or get yourself to the emergency room immediately. Taking swift action could save your life.