It can happen at any time. You may be out and about and suddenly feel a sharp stabbing sensation or a dull throbbing ache in your chest.
Chest pains are among the most common reasons for hospital emergency room visits. Yet, not all chest pains are the same.
While chest pains can indicate a medical emergency, sometimes they are not that serious. There are different reasons why you would have chest pains. Keep reading about the different types and learn how to tell whether your chest pains are serious.
What Is Chest Pain?
Chest pain can be scary, but not all cases are cause for alarm. Chest pain may vary from person to person in relation to the following factors:
Some people feel a dull ache in the chest area. Others feel a sharp, stabbing pain. While it could be a sign of serious problems, it isn’t always.
Chest Pain Types and Symptoms
Do you know how to tell whether your chest pains are serious? While some cases may herald a heart attack, only 13% of emergency doctor visits for chest pain are actually related to serious heart problems.
Chest Pains: Heart-Related
The following heart-related conditions may cause chest pains:
- angina – blockages in the blood vessels
- heart attack – blockage of blood flow to the heart
- myocarditis – heart muscle inflammation
- pericarditis – inflammation of the sac around the heart
- aortic dissection – tear in the aorta, rare
- cardiomyopathy – disease of the heart muscle
If you have chest pains related to a heart condition, they may manifest in different ways. While they usually occur on their own, they may also be accompanied by these symptoms:
- shortness of breath
- pain in the jaw, arm, or back
- chest tightness or pressure
- abdominal pain
- pain during exertion
If you have any of these symptoms, your chest pain may be related to a heart condition. But if you also experience any of the additional symptoms listed below, your problem might not be heart-related after all:
- flu-like symptoms – chills, aches, fever, runny nose, cough
- difficulty or pain swallowing or eating
- pain with a rash
- pain that worsens if you cough or breathe deeply
- pain that is better or worse in certain body positions
- feelings of anxiety or panic
- radiating pain from the back to the front
These symptoms may indicate that your chest pains are not heart-related. That doesn’t necessarily mean that they are not serious, but it can rule out chest pains as being related to a heart condition or heart attack.
Other Reasons for Chest Pain
There are other health problems that may cause chest pain including the following lung conditions:
- pneumonia – lung infection, causes deep aches
- pulmonary embolism – blood clot lodges in the lungs, may cause trouble breathing
- pleuritic – irritation or inflammation of lung and chest lining, may cause sharp pain when breathing or coughing
- asthma – shortness of breath, sometimes causes chest pain
In addition, there are some gastrointestinal conditions that may cause pain in the chest:
- GERD – acid reflux, may cause heartburn-like chest pains
- esophageal disorders – various, may cause spasms and chest pains
- pancreatitis – may cause lower chest pain
- Hiatal hernia – may cause heartburn and chest pain
- Peptic ulcers – painful sores in the stomach and upper intestinal lining, may cause vague chest discomfort
- gall bladder problems – may cause pain in right lower chest or right upper abdomen
Muscular and skeletal problems may also cause chest problems. Shingles, rib problems, or muscle strain may also cause chest pains that can be confused for heart attack pain.
Psychological issues can also contribute to chest pains. Anxiety and panic attacks could cause chest pains, too. These types of attacks are often accompanied by other symptoms like tingling sensations, dizziness, shortness of breath, trembling, and palpitations.
How to Tell Whether Your Chest Pains Are Serious: When to Call 911
It may be difficult to tell the difference between chest pains that occur as a result of a heart attack and similar pain stemming from other conditions. If you have any doubt, it is best to call your doctor, especially if the pain occurs abruptly or doesn’t seem to go away after some time.
You should also seek emergency help if you have any of the following symptoms:
- chest pain that spreads to different parts of your body like back, arm, or jaw
- very low heart rate or very low blood pressure
- shortness of breath with sudden chest pain
- suddenly feeling squeezing, tightness, pressure, or crushing underneath the breastbone
- rapid heart rate or rapid breathing
- ashen color
- excessive sweating
These symptoms may be cause for concern. However, they may not warrant an emergency room visit. Call your primary caregiver if you experience these symptoms along with chest pain:
- flu-like symptoms such as coughing up yellow or green mucus, fever, or chills
- severe chest pain that doesn’t go away
- problems swallowing
Chest Pain Treatments
Treatment options vary widely depending on the actual cause of your chest pains. They can range from medication and other noninvasive procedures to surgery.
Your doctor can treat many common conditions that may cause chest pains. Anxiety, asthma, and acid reflux can eventually be resolved, but you need to see your doctor to determine the exact cause.
Chest pains may be scary, especially if you don’t know how to tell whether your chest pains are serious. Although there are many conditions that can cause chest pains, it is important to get help immediately if you’re having a heart attack.
If you have chest pains and are unsure about calling the doctor, it is better to be safe than sorry. Call your doctor or seek professional help. Just remember that there is a chance that your chest pain may not be related to a serious condition.