Chest Pain and What It Can Mean

Chest pain can be an alarming symptom to experience! But just because you are experiencing pain, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re having a heart attack. Instead, it might be happening due to problems in the esophagus, lungs, ribs, muscles, or nerves. This pain is not something to ignore, which is why you shouldn’t hesitate to visit the nearest emergency room to identify the underlying cause of the pain.

Explaining Your Symptoms

During your visit to the nearest emergency center, you will be asked to describe the type of pain and the location of the pain. You might be feeling pain sensations that are:

  • Dull and consistent
  • Aching
  • Stabbing
  • Sharp
  • Burning
  • Vague discomfort
  • Crushing or squeezing sensation
  • Tightness in the chest

Typically, the pain is focused on the chest area specifically. But it can also travel up into the neck and jaw. Some people experience radiating pain down the arms and into the back.

Distinguishing Heart-Related Pain from Other Types of Chest Pain

Not only should you pay attention to the pain in your chest, but it is also important to identify other symptoms that accompany the chest pain. Here is an overview of common symptoms associated with heart problems and how these symptoms differ from other issues:

Symptoms of Heart-Related Chest Pain

  • Tightness, fullness, or pressure in the chest area
  • Searing or crushing pain that radiates into the arms, shoulders, back, jaw, and neck
  • Vomiting or nausea
  • Shortness of breath
  • Cold sweating
  • The intensity in pain varies depending on the activity and gets worse when moving
  • Pain lasts more than a few minutes

Symptoms of Other Causes of Chest Pain

It can be hard to distinguish heart-related chest pain with other conditions. If you are experiencing these symptoms, then your pain is likely caused by something other than the heart:

  • Persistent levels of pain
  • Continued pain for hours
  • Intensified pain when coughing or breathing
  • Tenderness when pushing on the chest
  • Pain can be reduced by changing body position
  • Sour taste in the mouth
  • Difficulty swallowing

For example, some of these symptoms are classic indications of heartburn. It is common for stomach issues to mimic heart symptoms, leading people to mistakenly think that they are having a heart attack.

Diagnostics: Questions Your Doctor Might Ask

During the examination, your doctor might ask specific questions to identify the underlying cause of your chest pain. It is important that you are honest and descriptive in your explanation of the pain to ensure an accurate diagnosis. These are some of the questions that might be discussed during your appointment:

  • Where is the pain located?
  • What does the pain feel like?
  • Would you describe it as pain, or is discomfort a better description?
  • How long have you been in pain?
  • Have the pain levels stayed consistent?
  • Is the pain constant, or does it go away at times?
  • Does the pain increase or decrease with activity or body position?
  • Have you experienced this pain or discomfort before?
  • What were you doing before the pain started?

In addition to your health profile and the description of your symptoms, it is common to use blood tests and electrocardiogram (ECG) tests to identify abnormalities with the heart. 

Common Causes of Chest Pain

Chest pain can have many possible causes, and it is estimated that 25% of these incidents are not related to the heart. The only way to confirm unexplained chest pain is by visiting a doctor for a diagnosis. A physical exam will be used along with digital diagnostics to determine the cause of the chest pain. Then, treatment options can be explored to relieve your symptoms.

These are common causes of chest pain:

  • Heart Causes: The first consideration will be your heart health. Chest pain could be happening because of a heart attack, angina, aortic dissection, or inflammation around the heart. Diagnostics will be performed to ensure healthy blood flow through the heart and the muscles that manage the pumping of the heart.
  • Lung Causes: Certain lung disorders can result in chest pain, including a pulmonary embolism that occurs when a blood clot blocks blood flow to lung tissue. Other lung problems might include pulmonary hypertension, a collapsed lung, or pleurisy. 
  • Digestive Causes: Problems with the stomach and esophagus are often the cause of chest pain. These digestive issues might include pancreas problems, a gallbladder attack, heartburn, or swallowing disorders.
  • Bone and Muscle Causes: Structural issues and injuries could affect the chest wall and cause radiating pain. Common causes related to the muscles and bone include inflammation of the cartilage of your rib cage, sore muscles due to physical activity, chronic pain conditions (such as fibromyalgia), rib injury, or trauma.
  • Mental Health Causes: It isn’t always a physical condition that causes chest pain. Certain mental health disorders could cause physical symptoms to occur. For example, people experiencing a panic attack often have symptoms that seem similar to a heart attack: rapid breathing, heavy sweating, breath shortness, chest pain, and more.

The most life-threatening causes of chest pain involve the lungs or heart. But it is important to seek treatment for all health conditions, so you don’t have to live with the discomfort or pain.

Are Your Chest Pains Serious?

Minor physical discomforts are common for people of all ages. But unlike an arthritic knee or joint pain that doesn’t require immediate treatment, you shouldn’t procrastinate a visit to the doctor if you are experiencing chest pain. A quick search online might be able to help you identify symptoms you are experiencing, but nothing beats a personal conversation with a medical expert.

Don’t play doctor at home! If you are concerned about pain or discomfort in your chest, arms, back, or jaw, then it is smart to seek medical attention as soon as possible. If the situation is urgent, you can call 911 or have someone drive you to the nearest emergency center.

Avoid these common excuses for delaying help: 

  • I’m too young for a heart attack
  • I’m in great shape
  • I need to wrap up things at work/home
  • I don’t want to pay the medical bill
  • I don’t want to cause a fuss

Procrastinating your visit to an urgent care or emergency center nearby could have fatal consequences in some situations. The best solution is to visit a medical expert right away to determine the cause of your chest pain.

Visit the Nearest Emergency Room

Pain in the chest could be an indication of a serious problem, which is why you should never hesitate to visit an emergency room nearby. It is important that you seek medical help as soon as possible. Delaying treatment could lead to preventable complications with your health.

Our team at iCare ER and Urgent Care are here to help with all of your emergency health concerns. We offer a board-certified team of physicians and nurses and years of experience in trauma and emergency medicine. If you have chest pain or any other health concerns, contact us as soon as possible by calling (214) 407-8668.

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