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Chest Pain: What You Need to Know
When you experience chest pain, it can feel like your world is ending. The intensity itself is often enough to send anyone into a panic. However, pain in the chest doesn’t always indicate a heart attack or other serious condition. Often, it is a result of something much less concerning. Here are some things you should know about this condition and what to do if you experience it.
What is chest pain?
It can be described as any pain in the area of your chest. For some people, it is in the middle of the chest, while for others it is on one of the sides of the chest. At times, it can be accompanied by a feeling of pressure, tightness, heaviness, or burning.
The source can be on many different areas of the chest. It can originate in the heart, lungs, or blood vessels. Chest pain may be short-term (acute), or long-lasting (chronic). It can also radiate to the jaw and arm or through to the back.
There are many possible causes. Some of the most common ones include:
- Chest infection (bacterial or viral) – People who have recently been sick with a viral or bacterial infection are at risk for developing it. Chest infections can cause this in the area of the lungs, which can cause pain in the chest. Sometimes feels worse with deep breathing.
- Chest wall pain – A condition that is caused by an injury to the ribs, muscles, or cartilage in the chest wall.
- Heartburn – When you have overeaten or consumed a large quantity of spicy or acidic foods. Heartburn can occur when the acid in your stomach refluxes into the esophagus. It can sometimes be felt in the chest.
- Inflammation of the inner lining of the heart (pericarditis) – An infection of the heart lining (pericardium) can cause inflammation of the inner lining of the heart.
- Coronary artery disease (angina) – In this condition, the arteries supplying the heart with blood are narrowed. This usually causes pain on exertion.
- Heart attack (myocardial infraction) – A fatty plaque in the heart arteries gets inflamed and ruptures causing a clot to form in the artery. This is a medical emergency.
When should you be concerned?
If it is new, or you have other symptoms alongside it, you should see your doctor. The type of pain and other symptoms you have can help determine its cause. For example, if you have heavy pain in your chest, accompanied by nausea and dizziness, it could be a sign of a heart attack.
Pain that happens along with shortness of breath can be a sign of a respiratory infection. Burning pain in your chest along with fatigue and indigestion is a sign of heartburn. If in doubt, call an ambulance and seek help immediately.
Other common causes
- Arthritis – Arthritis in the ribs can be one of its causes.
- Rib fracture – A fracture of the ribs can cause it. It can last for a long time and worsen with coughing and breathing.
- Anxiety – An anxiety attack can cause a feeling of tightness in the chest.
- Costochondritis – It can be caused by an inflammation of the joints connecting the ribs to the breastbone.
- Stress – A lot of stress can cause tension in the chest.
- Sprain – A sudden movement that stretches or tears the muscles or ligaments in your chest.
- Heart palpitations – A feeling of irregular or fast beating of the heart.
More serious causes
- Aortic dissection – A tear in the wall of the main artery that carries blood from the heart to the rest of the body.
- Coronary artery disease – A disease that affects the blood vessels supplying the heart.
- Myocardial infraction (heart attack) – A sudden loss of blood flow to part of the heart, which results in chest pain, shortness of breath, and nausea.
- Pulmonary embolus – A blood clot that forms in the lungs, blocking blood vessels.
Chest pain is a common symptom that can be caused by various diseases. It can also be a symptom of anxiety, stress, or heart palpitations. If you are experiencing chest pain, it is important to see a doctor to find out the cause and how to treat it. You should also make sure that you know what the warning signs of a heart attack are, so you can seek medical attention as soon as possible if you experience them.
Thankfully, there are several ways how you can manage stress and improve your heart’s health that doesn’t require much expense. You can incorporate healthy practices into your daily routine in order to prevent further problems. Learning to manage sleep, reduce stress, and an active lifestyle really helps but seeing your cardiologist on a regular basis still is a must.
Dr Michael MacDonald is a heart doctor and cardiologist working in Singapore.