Chest pain is never something to ignore, but it doesn’t always mean heart attack. In the United States 25 percent of the population experiences chest pain that is not related to the heart. Chest pain can be caused by problems in the esophagus, lungs, muscles, nerves or ribs. Any chest pain is worth a visit to the doctor to have evaluated.
What are some types of chest pain?
Pain anywhere from your neck to your upper abdomen is considered chest pain. Depending on the cause, chest pain can be aching, burning, dull, sharp, and stabbing or a tight, squeezing or crunching feeling.
What are causes of chest pain?
Chest pain can be caused by heart, lung, esophageal, muscle, and nerve or rib problems. Chest pain caused by heart problems could be a heart attack, heart failure, problems with a valve or inflammation of the heart or the sac around it. Chest pain caused by lung problems could be asthma, pneumonia, inflammation of the lungs, or injury to the lungs. Gastrointestinal problems could also cause chest pain. This pain could stem from ulcers, hernias, pancreatitis or acid reflux. Other causes for chest pain could include rib problems or muscle strains. Anxiety and panic attacks can be culprits of chest pain as well. The most life-threatening causes of chest pain are those that involve the heart or lungs.
When to call a doctor for chest pain?
When in doubt, call your doctor. Especially is symptoms come on suddenly and are not relieved by an anti-inflammatory. Call your doctor if you have severe chest pain that does not go away accompanied by problems swallowing, fever, chills or coughing up mucus.
911 should be called if along with chest pain you experience any of the following: sudden feeling of pressure, squeezing or tightness under your breastbone, chest pain that spreads to jaw, left arm or back, sudden sharp chest pain with shortness of breath, nausea, dizziness, rapid heart rate or breathing, confusion, very low blood pressure or very low heart rate.
How will the doctor know what is causing the pain?
There are some immediate tests that will help the doctor diagnose the pain. First is an electrocardiogram (ECG) which will record the electrical activity of the heart. The doctor can also order a blood test to check for increased levels of certain enzymes, as well as a chest X-ray to check the condition of lungs and heart shape.
Less immediate testing can be done as well. An echocardiogram uses sound waves to produce a video image of the heart in motion. A computerized tomography (CT scan)can check heart arteries for signs of calcium and plaque blockages. A magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) test can create cross-sectional images of the body which allows doctors to look for evidence of damage to the heart. Stress tests can also be ordered to measure heart and blood vessels response to exertion. Finally, a coronary catheterization allows doctors to identify individual arteries that may be blocked.
Mark Litz, MD, is a family medicine physician at IU Health Ball Memorial Outpatient Center/Yorktown. For more information, go to iuhealth.org/ball-memorial.