Chest pain is worrisome for one obvious reason — it could signal a heart attack. Considering that a person has a heart attack every 40 seconds in the United States, it’s little wonder why the symptom is the source of such worry.
Bear in mind, however, that chest pain can also be associated with indigestion or panic attacks, which are not life-threatening situations.
So, how do you tell the difference? The team here at Upper East Side Cardiology, under the experienced guidance of Dr. Satjit Bhusri, is going to provide you with a few good rules of thumb. Our view is that even though chest pain isn't always serious, it’s always worth investigating.
Chest pain and heart attacks
Let’s first tackle the one condition that we’re all worried about when it comes to chest pain — heart attacks.
When someone has a heart attack, the chest pain mostly comes on suddenly and the symptom can also present as tightness or squeezing in your chest. The pain can also radiate into your left shoulder, into your jaw, and around to your back.
Heart attack symptoms also often include fatigue, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, shortness of breath, and, sometimes, loss of consciousness.
If the chest pain is moderate to severe, comes on suddenly, and is accompanied by other symptoms, we suggest calling 911 immediately.
Bear in mind that while heart attacks are more common, other sudden cardiac emergencies can lead to chest pain, including aortic aneurysm, coronary artery dissection, and pulmonary embolism. Here again, if the chest pain is strong and comes on suddenly, please seek medical attention right away.
Other causes of chest pain
Since we’re a cardiology practice, we’re going to start with cardiovascular issues that count chest pain among the symptoms, including:
- Myocarditis and pericarditis (inflammation in the heart)
- Valve issues
- Cardiomyopathy (heart muscle grows thick)
- Heart failure
These conditions are often progressive, which means the chest discomfort may be mild, at first. The longer many of these conditions go undiagnosed, however, the worse the symptoms can become, including chest pain, shortness of breath, and fatigue.
Outside of cardiovascular issues, there are many other roads to chest pain, including:
- Lung issues that range from a common cold to pneumonia
- Pulmonary hypertension
- Collapsed lung
- Broken ribs
- Hiatal hernia
- Muscle strain
- Panic attacks
Of this list, heartburn is the most common driver of chest pain. We also want to highlight the last item — panic attacks — which can feel for all the world like you’d imagine a heart attack to feel. From shortness of breath to tightness in your chest, many people end up in ERs because of panic attacks. And we think that’s OK, as it’s always better to err on the side of caution when it comes to chest pain.
If you’d like to get to the bottom of your ongoing chest pain, please come see us sooner rather than later. To get started, please contact our New York City office on the Upper East Side of Manhattan to schedule an appointment. You can also call (212) 752-3464.