Upon hearing the word chest pain, one thing that immediately springs to your mind is a heart attack. It is true that chest pain is the most common and well-known symptom of a heart attack, but is it always the case? That’s not true. Chest pain can be caused by multiple other reasons that may or may not be directly linked to your heart. Let’s delve more into the causes of chest pain to understand whether you should be worried about it or not.
What are the causes of chest pain?
The two major organs that lie in your chest cavity are the heart and lungs. Any minor to a major complication with these organs or their associated structures may cause chest pain. Some of the common causes include:
- Cardiac arrest: This is one of the most known causes of chest pain. It occurs when the blood supply to a specific area of the heart is limited or blocked by a blood clot.
- Angina: Compared to a heart attack, angina is short-lasting chest pain due to reduced blood flow. Often the underlying cause is a thickening of arteries due to cholesterol deposits.
- Pericarditis: The sac that surrounds your heart is called the pericardium. Inflammation of this sac results in pericarditis which can cause sharp pain in the chest region.
- Coronary artery dissection: A tear in the coronary artery that supplies blood to your heart can cause severe chest pain. It can radiate to your neck and back.
- Heartburn: Another common cause of chest pain that can be mistaken for a heart attack is heartburn. It occurs due to acid reflux or digestive issues.
- Pulmonary embolism: The presence of a blood clot in the arteries that supply your lungs can lead to pulmonary embolism. This may result in intense chest pain along with respiratory symptoms.
- Pleurisy: Like your heart, your lungs are also covered by a pleural membrane. Inflammation of this covering layer is called pleurisy, which can cause chest pain upon breathing.
- Chronic lung disease: Asthma, COPD, emphysema, or other lung conditions that cause difficulty breathing can also lead to chest pain. Breathing becomes difficult and painful in severe cases of these conditions.
- Costochondritis: The cartilage that connects your ribs with the breast bone becomes inflamed in this condition. Expansion and contraction of the lungs during respiration can aggravate chest pain in this condition.
- Panic or anxiety attack: Chest pain, shortness of breath, and increased sweating can also result from a panic or anxiety attack. There is often a triggering factor present that stimulates this response.
Besides these conditions, chest pain occurs due to various causes such as a traumatic injury, pulmonary hypertension, collapsed lung, peptic ulcer, etc. The symptoms for each condition need to be thoroughly evaluated to figure out the potential cause.
When to visit a doctor?
It is better to seek emergency medical care if you are experiencing any of the following symptoms:
- Extreme pain in the chest that worsens over time
- Feeling of extreme fullness or tightness in the chest
- Pain that gets intense with increased activity
- Pain radiating to your left side of the body
- Pain radiating to your neck, shoulders, or back
- Shortness of breath
- Drop-in pulse rate or weak pulse
- Dizziness or disorientation
- Profuse sweating
- Nausea or vomiting
If you have already experienced chest pain before due to a known reason (such as gastric acid reflux), you may not need emergency medical attention in such a situation. However, if you’re unaware of your condition or its symptoms, it is better to seek the help of a professional medical expert to guide and reassure you about the problem.
Your doctor will tell you the underlying cause after examination and certain diagnostic tests. Some of the tests include ECG, blood tests, chest x-ray, etc. Some specific tests may be required after obtaining results from these general tests. If it is something to be worried about, your doctor will guide you about the necessary measures to treat and prevent it.
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