Your chest is hurting and you don’t know why. It may be a sharp, dull, burning, aching, stabbing, tight, squeezing or a crushing sensation. You may be thinking to yourself – is this something I need to worry about right now? Am I having a heart attack?
The good news is that while 7 million Americans suffer from chest pain and the majority of those are not related to the heart and are not dangerous conditions. Your chest pain may instead be a symptom of your lungs, esophagus, muscles, ribs, nerves, or tendons.
You should be seen by an emergency physician if you have new onset chest pain, have one or more of the following warning signs, or your symptoms resemble those of a previous heart attack.
WHEN SHOULD I COME TO THE ER?
Even minimal symptoms of chest pain should be readily evaluated by an emergency physician as it may be a potential life-threatening disorder and event. There are certain warning signs that can help you decide when an evaluation is needed:
- Crushing or squeezing pain
- Nausea or vomiting
- Ashen appearance
- Shortness of breath
- Rapid or irregular heartbeat (palpitations)
- Pain in the neck, back, jaw, abdomen
- Pain in the shoulders or arms
Your risk for a heart attack is increased if:
- Heart disease runs in your family
- Smoking or abuse drugs has happened recently
- You have high blood pressure, high cholesterol or diabetes
- You already have heart disease
WHAT ARE THE CAUSES OF CHEST PAIN?
Less serious but painful conditions include:
- Reflux disease or heartburn, ulcers, spasms, gastritis
- Gallstones, biliary colic
- Pericarditis (inflammation of the membrane that cover the heart)
- Pleuritis (inflammation of the membrane that covers the lungs)
- Musculoskeletal chest wall pain
- Nerve pain
Immediately life-threatening disorders which require rapid diagnosis and treatment include:
- Heart attack
- Aortic dissection (tear in the wall of the aorta)
- Pneumothorax (collapsed lung)
- Pulmonary embolism (blockage in the artery of the lungs by a blood clot)
- Esophageal tear