Chest pain is a hallmark symptom of a heart attack, and because of that, chest pain should always be taken seriously until you can determine that you’re not having a heart attack. There are many causes of chest pain unrelated to your heart, and this type of chest pain is not as serious as heart-related chest pain.
This begs the questions: How do you know what’s causing your chest pain and when is it serious?
Below, Dr. Henock Saint-Jaques and our team here at Harlem Cardiology discuss the difference between heart-related chest pain and non-heart-related chest pain.
Chest pain unrelated to your heart
Chest pain that’s not caused by a heart issue isn’t as serious as chest pain caused by a heart issue. That being said, many people find that it’s difficult to distinguish between different types of chest pain. This is why you should always err on the side of caution. (Not to mention, even though these conditions aren’t as serious as a heart attack, they still benefit from treatment!)
Chest colds, heartburn and acid reflux disease, and sore chest muscles can all contribute to chest pain. According to Cleveland Clinic, fibromyalgia, broken ribs, pleurisy, asthma, and even shingles can cause temporary chest pain. You might suspect that your chest pain is connected to one of these conditions if:
- You have a sour taste in your mouth, the feeling of food reentering your mouth, or you have trouble swallowing (often a sign of GERD)
- Your chest that gets worse when you breathe deeply or cough (often due to a cold, flu, or pneumonia)
- Tenderness when you push on your chest or use your chest muscles
- Pain that persists for many hours
- You know you have an underlying condition that is known for causing chest pain
If you have new chest pain or pain that seems different than past episodes, take it seriously and seek immediate medical attention.
Chest pain related to your heart
Chest pain caused by a heart issue is often more serious and requires more immediate care. Chest pain that accompanies any of the signs of a heart attack warrants a trip to the emergency room. This includes:
- Jaw pain
- Arm pain (especially in the left arm and/or shoulder)
- Feeling lightheaded
- Sudden fatigue
- Shortness of breath
Chest pain can also be a sign of a pulmonary embolism. This life-threatening condition may also cause a cough with bloody mucus, excessive sweating, heart palpitations, leg pain, and clammy skin.
Call 911 immediately if you witness these symptoms in yourself or a loved one.
Finding the source of your chest pain
When you have chest pain, your priority is to determine what’s causing the chest pain. The following tests can help confirm or rule out serious causes of chest pain:
- Blood tests
- Imaging tests, such as a chest X-ray or a computerized tomography (CT) scan
Dr. Saint-Jacques may also recommend a CT coronary angiogram, stress tests, and/or a coronary catheterization (angiogram) to provide more information about your heart, if needed. For more serious causes of chest pain, he may prescribe medication (such as aspirin or blood-thinners) or procedures (such as angioplasty and stent placement).
Questions? To learn more about chest pain or to schedule an evaluation, call our Madison Avenue office at 646-381-2181. You can also request your next appointment online.