Chest pain has become a hallmark symptom of heart disease. Unfortunately, it isn’t always easy to recognize. For example, chest pain may be described as sharp or dull. It may come and go, change with position or be constant. It might not even be described as pain at all, but as a feeling of fullness, crushing, squeezing or pressure.
Chest pain can have several causes. While many of them are harmless, it is better to be safe than sorry. If you are experiencing new or worsening chest discomfort, call 911. Like the American Heart Association says: Don’t die of doubt.
Understanding Chest Pain
Without a medical provider, there is no simple way to tell whether or not chest pain is associated with the heart. However, many people who have experienced a heart attack have reported accompanying symptoms.
Heart-Related Chest Pain and Heart Attack
- May feel like pressure, squeezing or discomfort in the center of the chest
- Typically lasts for more than a few minutes; may go away and then come back
- May be accompanied by discomfort or pain in the upper body, including the back, neck, arm or jaw*
- May occur with shortness of breath, dizziness, feelings of lightheadedness or fatigue*
- May occur with cold sweat, nausea or vomiting*
* Women are more likely to experience these less common symptoms
In the event of a heart attack, you may have one or more of these symptoms. If you feel unwell and find yourself wondering about your heart, seek emergency medical attention.
Other Types of Chest Pain
Just like there are symptoms associated with heart-related chest pain, there are signs that may point to another cause. For example, chest pain might result from conditions of the stomach, muscle, bones or lungs. The following types of chest pain are less likely to be associated with the heart:
- Heartburn – Heartburn may occur after eating or drinking. In addition to a burning sensation in the stomach or chest, you may also experience a sour taste in your mouth, regurgitation, belching and other symptoms. Heartburn may improve with an over-the-counter medication.
While indigestion is a common cause of non-cardiac chest pain, it may also occur with heart-related discomfort. If you experience any new or unusual chest pain, take action.
- Muscle-related pain – In many cases, chest pain associated with the muscles will be triggered by certain movements or motions. Your muscle may also be tender to the touch.
If you have an inflammatory condition, such as fibromyalgia, speak with your doctor about recognizing and managing chest pain.
- Costochondritis or rib injury – Rib injury or costochondritis, a condition characterized by inflammation of the cartilage connecting the ribs, may cause chest pain that worsens with breathing or movement.
- Panic and anxiety attacks – If you experience episodes of intense fear, worry or doom accompanied by chest pain, a rapid heart rate, sweating, shortness of breath or hyperventilation and dizziness, you may be having a panic attack.
Many symptoms of panic or anxiety disorders can overlap with heart attack warning signs, do not be afraid to seek emergency medical care. There is nothing silly about protecting your health. Likewise, if you struggle with these disorders, working with a mental health professional may help improve your well-being and quality of life.
Learn more about heart care at FMC