Chest Pain: Why Is It There and When Is It an Emergency? (2022)

Chest pain can be a confusing symptom, and it is one that should not be ignored. It may mean something as simple as acid reflux, or it could indicate a significant and dangerous problem like cardiac disease. For this reason, chest pain and chest tightness should be taken seriously.

Chest pain, also known as angina, may manifest as a variety of symptoms, including chest pressure or tightness. Many people describe their chest tightness as a squeezing sensation, causing significant enough discomfort to take notice.

If you are feeling any chest pain, pressure, or tightness, be sure to see your healthcare provider right away. They can diagnose your chest pain and be sure you get the correct treatment.

This article will explore left-sided chest pain and help you understand its various causes. It will help you to determine if your chest tightness and pressure are a major problem and what you should do about them.

Chest Pain: Why Is It There and When Is It an Emergency? (1)

Symptoms of Left-Sided Chest Pain

Chest pain symptoms come on in a variety of ways. Symptoms may include:

  • Sharp or stabbing pain in the left side of your chest
  • Squeezing sensations in your chest
  • Left shoulder and arm tightness
  • Burning in your chest or shoulder
  • Left-sided jaw pain
  • A feeling of fullness in your chest

These symptoms may come on gradually or suddenly, and they may occur after activity or during rest. The pain may be accompanied by other symptoms, such as shortness of breath, sweating, or nausea.

(Video) Chest pain: how to distinguish between cardiac and noncardiac causes

When It’s an Emergency

If you have chest tightness or pressure, it may not always be a sign of a heart attack or another critical problem. However, it may be something serious that requires swift medical attention.

Signals from your body that accompany chest pressure or left-sided chest pain and may indicate an emergency include:

  • Confusion or disorientation
  • Excessive sweating
  • Dizziness or nausea
  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest pain with jaw or upper back pain
  • Changes in blood pressure or heart rate

If you have any of these symptoms, you must see your healthcare provider right away or visit your nearest emergency department. Time is of the essence. Chest pain can be a sign of heart disease, and you must get medical attention to avoid significant problems.

When Is Chest Pain a Serious Emergency?

Causes

There are several possible causes of chest pain and pressure. Some of these may be orthopedic problems (involving the musculoskeletal system), and some may be related to your digestive system. Chest tightness and pain may be a signal that something is wrong with your heart or lungs. For this reason, all chest pain should be taken seriously and never ignored.

Pericarditis

Your heart is surrounded by a thin, saclike structure called the pericardium. Pericarditis is a swelling or inflammation of this structure. Chest pain is one symptom of pericarditis. The pain is usually worse with lying down or coughing and better with sitting or leaning forward.

Other symptoms that accompany the chest pain or tightness may include:

(Video) Is chest pain a sign of heart attack?

  • Fever
  • Cough
  • Swelling in the legs
  • Heart palpitations
  • Shortness of breath
  • Swelling of your abdomen

Pericarditis is a medical emergency. If you suspect it, you must see your healthcare provider right away.

Panic Attack

Sometimes anxiety or stress can cause a panic attack and can lead to chest tightness and pressure. This may be accompanied by feelings of worry, anxiety, or sadness. You may also notice some shortness of breath, but in general you should not feel physically unwell or have a fever.

Acid Reflux

Sometimes gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), also known as acid reflux, can cause chest pain and tightness. These symptoms come on gradually and typically after having a meal with a trigger food for reflux. Symptoms are not life-threatening, and they are usually much better with over-the-counter or prescription medication for reflux.

Heart Attack

A heart attack, or myocardial infarction, is a serious problem that requires swift medical attention to treat. This occurs when the flow of blood to your heart is stopped. Your heart tissue will struggle to work properly, and a tight, squeezing sensation may be felt in your chest, left shoulder, jaw, or left arm.

Symptoms of a heart attack are typically, but not always, accompanied by shortness of breath, nausea, or sweating. If there is any evidence that you may be having a heart attack, you need to get medical attention right away. The cause of your heart attack can be determined, and the correct treatment can be started to help save your cardiac muscle and, potentially, your life.

Could You Be Having A Heart Attack? How To Tell, What To Do

Cervical Radiculopathy

Believe it or not, some chest pain and left arm pain can come from your neck in the form of cervical radiculopathy. Pain in your chest may be due to a pinched nerve from a bulging disk or arthritis in your neck.

(Video) Causes of Chest Pain: EASY TRICK to Never Miss an Emergency [Must See]

Cervical radiculopathy typically causes pain that changes with your position. As you move your neck or change your posture, the pain may decrease or intensify. The pain may also lessen with anti-inflammatory medication.

Diagnosis

Since chest pain and pressure can be caused by a host of different problems, diagnosing it can be challenging. When reporting to your healthcare provider with chest pain, you will receive a clinical examination in order for your provider to determine how to best diagnose the condition.

Common diagnostic tests for chest pain or tightness may include:

  • Clinical examination
  • Electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG)
  • Chest X-ray
  • Blood work
  • Computerized tomography (CT) scan
  • Gastroscopy to examine your digestive system

If the results of these tests indicate that a cardiac issue is causing your chest pain, further testing may be done in order to determine the severity of your problem. A stress test may be performed to challenge your cardiac tissue and assess your heart function, or a cardiac catheterization may be performed to visually examine your heart's vessels.

If a cardiac problem is ruled out as a cause of your chest pain, then other tests may be done—including a cervical MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) scan or nerve conduction tests—to rule out other diagnoses. Standard practice is to err on the side of caution by ruling out serious causes and then performing other tests to determine less serious causes.

Treatment

The treatment you get for chest pain depends upon the results of your diagnostic testing, such as:

  • If your chest pressure is caused by a cardiac issue: Medication may be used to help decrease your episodes of chest discomfort and to ensure that your heart is working properly. If your cardiac issues are not improving with medication, surgery may be recommended. Valve replacement, stent placement, or bypass grafting may be done to ensure your heart has adequate blood perfusion to continue to work properly.
  • If it's caused by digestive problems: If digestive issues are causing your chest pain, changes to your diet may be recommended to keep stomach acid to a minimum. Medicine may be used to inhibit GERD, and surgery may be needed for severe cases. Surgery involves repairing a small sphincter that separates your stomach from your lower esophagus, preventing stomach acid from traveling to your esophagus.
  • If the cause is cervical radiculopathy: Cervical radiculopathy may cause chest and arm pain and is often caused by a pinched nerve. Working with a physical therapist can help decrease your pain and relieve pressure from the nerve. Epidural steroid injections or surgery may also be performed for severe cases that do not get better with conservative measures.
  • If the cause is a panic attack: If a panic attack has caused your chest pain, then working to reduce your anxiety is a good idea. A counselor, psychologist, or therapist can help with that. Sometimes medication may be used to help control your episodes of anxiety.

Types of Mental Health Therapy

(Video) Time Management in the ED and ICU (chest pain patient)

Summary

Chest pain is a symptom that should not be ignored. It may occur due to a cardiac, digestive, orthopedic, or neurological problem. Diagnosis of chest pain and pressure involves several tests to rule in or out a specific pathology, and treatment often includes lifestyle changes, medication, or surgery.

A Word From Verywell

Chest pain can be a scary symptom, and ignoring it can be a devastatingly bad choice. If your chest pain or pressure is from a heart attack, death can result. But, most episodes of chest pain are easily managed; the trick is performing the right tests for successful diagnosis and then treating the right pathology.

If you have chest pain, pressure, or tightness you should see your healthcare provider right away. They can help determine the cause of your problem and recommend the best treatment. That way, you can quickly get back to your normal lifestyle with minimal or no episodes of chest pain.

The 9 Most Common Causes of Chest Wall Pain

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How can you tell if chest pain is muscular?

    Muscular chest pain typically changes when you alter your position. As you move your arms or shoulders, muscular chest pain may hurt a little worse, and it is often relieved or stopped by rest. Muscular chest pain is often not accompanied by other symptoms like nausea or shortness of breath.

    (Video) What Causes Chest Pain? - David Feldman, MD - Emergency Medicine

FAQs

When is chest pain an emergency? ›

Sudden severe chest or upper back pain, often described as a tearing, ripping or shearing sensation, that radiates to the neck or down the back. Loss of consciousness (fainting) Shortness of breath. Sudden difficulty speaking, loss of vision, weakness or paralysis of one side of your body, such as having a stroke.

Is chest pain a reason to go to the hospital? ›

You should go to the ER if you experience chest pain along with other symptoms. This usually indicates a heart attack. Call 911 or get to the ER right away if you experience chest pain with: Shortness of breath.

Why is chest pain a concern? ›

Chest pain can be serious. It may be caused by temporary poor blood flow to the heart (angina), or by a sudden blockage in the coronary arteries resulting in a heart attack. If you have chest pain, seek urgent medical help.

What is the emergency treatment for chest pain? ›

Nitroglycerin — usually taken as a tablet under the tongue — relaxes heart arteries, so blood can flow more easily through the narrowed spaces. Some blood pressure medicines also relax and widen blood vessels. Aspirin.

What kind of chest pain should I worry about? ›

Heart-related chest pain

Pressure, fullness, burning or tightness in your chest. Crushing or searing pain that spreads to your back, neck, jaw, shoulders, and one or both arms. Pain that lasts more than a few minutes, gets worse with activity, goes away and comes back, or varies in intensity. Shortness of breath.

Should I worry about chest pain that comes and goes? ›

If you have chest pain that comes and goes, you should be sure to see your doctor. It's important that they evaluate and properly diagnose your condition so that you can receive treatment. Remember that chest pain can also be a sign of a more serious condition like a heart attack.

Can heart related chest pain last for days? ›

Heart attack pain may start with chest pressure that comes and goes, sometimes with exertion. If the pain becomes continuous, seek medical attention immediately and consider calling 911. If you have chest pain constantly for several days, weeks or months, it is unlikely to be caused by a heart attack.

Can you have chest pain that is not heart related? ›

Non-cardiac chest pain (NCCP) is chest pain in patients who do not have heart disease. The pain can be felt behind the breast bone. It can be squeezing or pressure-like.

Can chest pain be caused by stress? ›

How anxiety causes chest pain. When you're anxious, your brain sends a surge of adrenaline and cortisol through your body. These hormones immediately trigger a rapid rise in your heart rate and blood pressure. As a result, many people experience chest pain and sweating, or have a hard time breathing.

What are the causes of chest pain in woman? ›

In some cases, pain or discomfort may be due to other causes, such as heartburn, reflux, a lung-related issue, or another problem affecting the heart. Although some possible causes of chest pain are less serious, a woman should seek help immediately as this symptom may indicate a medical emergency.

Where is chest pain located? ›

Chest pain is discomfort or pain that you feel anywhere along the front of your body between your neck and upper abdomen. Symptoms of a possible heart attack include chest pain and pain that radiates down the shoulder and arm. Some people (older adults, people with diabetes, and women) may have little or no chest pain.

How do you sleep with chest pain? ›

Sleeping. Lie on your side with a pillow between your legs and your head elevated with pillows. Keep your back straight. Lie on your back with your head elevated and your knees bent, with a pillow under your knees.

Is aspirin good for chest pain? ›

But people who think they may be having an attack need an extra 325 mg of aspirin, and they need it as quickly as possible. For the best results, chew a single full-sized 325-mg tablet, but don't use an enteric-coated tablet, which will act slowly even if chewed. And don't forget to call 911, then your doctor.

How do you know if chest pain is muscular or heart? ›

The pain of a heart attack differs from that of a strained chest muscle. A heart attack may cause a dull pain or an uncomfortable feeling of pressure in the chest. Usually, the pain begins in the center of the chest, and it may radiate outward to one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw, or stomach.

How do you know when you've got a chest infection? ›

Signs and symptoms of a chest infection
  1. a persistent cough.
  2. coughing up yellow or green phlegm (thick mucus), or coughing up blood.
  3. breathlessness or rapid and shallow breathing.
  4. wheezing.
  5. a high temperature (fever)
  6. a rapid heartbeat.
  7. chest pain or tightness.
  8. feeling confused and disorientated.
1 Apr 2021

How does anxiety chest pain feel? ›

Anxiety Chest Pain Symptoms

Sharp, shooting, or stabbing pain. Persistent, dull aching. Tightness, tension, or pressure. A burning sensation.

Does drinking water help relieve chest pain? ›

Drinking hot water was effective in 5/8 patients who ever tried to relieve chest pain attacks. On manometry, cold water increased lower esophageal sphincter (LES) resting pressure (P = 0.003), and prolonged the duration of esophageal body contraction (P = 0.002).

How do you check for a heart blockage at home? ›

To measure your pulse on your own:
  1. Get a watch with a second hand.
  2. Place your index and middle finger of your hand on the inner wrist of the other arm, just below the base of the thumb. ...
  3. Count the number of taps you feel in 10 seconds.
  4. Multiply that number by 6 to find out your heart rate for 1 minute.
16 Mar 2022

Can chest pain go away on its own? ›

Chest pain may arise and subside every few minutes or over several days. The cause may be related to the heart, the muscles, the digestive system, or psychological factors. Underlying causes of chest pain may be mild, as in the case of acid reflux. Or, they may be serious and indicate, for example, a heart attack.

How do I know if I have heart problems or anxiety? ›

Although chest pain is common to both a panic attack and a heart attack, the characteristics of the pain often differ. During a panic attack, chest pain is usually sharp or stabbing and localized in the middle of the chest. Chest pain from a heart attack may resemble pressure or a squeezing sensation.

What else could chest pain be? ›

This can be due to trauma, arthritis or other conditions such as fibromyalgia. Certain rashes like herpes zoster will cause chest pain localized to the skin. Some lung-related causes include pneumonia, pleurisy (inflammation of the lining of the lungs) or pulmonary embolism (blood clots to lungs).

How can you tell the difference between cardiac and non cardiac chest pain? ›

Classically, cardiac chest pain is in the left chest. However, it may occur in the center or right chest. Non-cardiac chest pain may have many of the above symptoms. However, non-cardiac chest pain may change with respiration, cough, or position.

What does a heart blockage feel like? ›

A completely blocked coronary artery will cause a heart attack. The classic signs and symptoms of a heart attack include crushing chest pain or pressure, shoulder or arm pain, shortness of breath, and sweating. Women may have less typical symptoms, such as neck or jaw pain, nausea and fatigue.

What are 4 signs of stress? ›

Physical signs of stress
  • Diffculty breathing.
  • Panic attacks.
  • Blurred eyesight or sore eyes.
  • Sleep problems.
  • Fatigue.
  • Muscle aches and headaches.
  • Chest pains and high blood pressure.
  • Indigestion or heartburn.

Can dehydration cause chest pain? ›

If you're dehydrated, you might get a headache, start cramping and feel dizzy. In some cases, dehydration can cause chest pain. Our expert, Dr.

Why is my chest feeling heavy? ›

Feeling heaviness in the chest can result from various mental and physical health conditions. People often associate a heavy feeling in the chest with heart problems, but this discomfort can be a sign of anxiety or depression. A feeling of heaviness is one way that a person may describe chest pain or discomfort.

How would you describe chest pain? ›

This can feel like a squeezing, tightness, pressure, constriction, strangling, burning, heartburn, fullness in the chest, band-like sensation, knot in the center of the chest, ache, heavy weight on the chest, or a bra that is too tight. People with pain that is not angina often describe their pain as sharp or stabbing.

Why do I have pain in my left chest? ›

If a person is experiencing chest pain on the left side of their body, this could indicate a heart attack or other medical conditions, such as a lung problem or inflammation of the lining around a person's heart.

What sleeping position helps the heart? ›

Similarly, sleeping on your left side, specifically, could help the flow of blood to your heart. When your heart pumps blood out to your body, it gets circulated and then flows back to your heart on the right side, Winter explains.

Does lack of sleep cause chest pain? ›

When sleep is interrupted, a quick surge in heart rate and blood pressure can cause angina, and studies have detected a correlation between sleep deprivation and chest pain. Non-cardiac chest pain can be tied to sleep as well.

How long do heart attacks last? ›

Mild heart attack symptoms might only occur for two to five minutes then stop with rest. A full heart attack with complete blockage lasts much longer, sometimes for more than 20 minutes.

Can you take ibuprofen for chest pain? ›

Chest-wall pain usually lasts only a few days, and aspirin or ibuprofen may help relieve it.

What causes heart attacks? ›

A heart attack occurs when an artery that sends blood and oxygen to the heart is blocked. Fatty, cholesterol-containing deposits build up over time, forming plaques in the heart's arteries. If a plaque ruptures, a blood clot can form. The clot can block arteries, causing a heart attack.

Who Cannot take aspirin? ›

Some medical conditions, such as pregnancy, uncontrolled high blood pressure, bleeding disorders, asthma, peptic (stomach) ulcers, liver and kidney disease, could make aspirin a bad choice for you.

Can heart related chest pain last for days? ›

Heart attack pain may start with chest pressure that comes and goes, sometimes with exertion. If the pain becomes continuous, seek medical attention immediately and consider calling 911. If you have chest pain constantly for several days, weeks or months, it is unlikely to be caused by a heart attack.

How do you know if chest pain is muscular or heart related? ›

The pain of a heart attack differs from that of a strained chest muscle. A heart attack may cause a dull pain or an uncomfortable feeling of pressure in the chest. Usually, the pain begins in the center of the chest, and it may radiate outward to one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw, or stomach.

What symptoms will get you admitted to the hospital? ›

Symptoms of a Medical Emergency
  • Difficulty breathing, shortness of breath.
  • Chest or upper abdominal pain or pressure.
  • Fainting, sudden dizziness or weakness.
  • Changes in vision.
  • Confusion or changes in mental status.
  • Any sudden or severe pain.
  • Uncontrolled bleeding.
  • Severe or persistent vomiting or diarrhea.

Where is heart pain located? ›

Chest pain or discomfort.

Most heart attacks involve discomfort in the center or left side of the chest that lasts for more than a few minutes or that goes away and comes back. The discomfort can feel like uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness, or pain.

How can I test my heart at home? ›

To measure your pulse on your own:
  1. Get a watch with a second hand.
  2. Place your index and middle finger of your hand on the inner wrist of the other arm, just below the base of the thumb. ...
  3. Count the number of taps you feel in 10 seconds.
  4. Multiply that number by 6 to find out your heart rate for 1 minute.
16 Mar 2022

Can chest pain go away on its own? ›

Chest pain may arise and subside every few minutes or over several days. The cause may be related to the heart, the muscles, the digestive system, or psychological factors. Underlying causes of chest pain may be mild, as in the case of acid reflux. Or, they may be serious and indicate, for example, a heart attack.

What does a heart blockage feel like? ›

A completely blocked coronary artery will cause a heart attack. The classic signs and symptoms of a heart attack include crushing chest pain or pressure, shoulder or arm pain, shortness of breath, and sweating. Women may have less typical symptoms, such as neck or jaw pain, nausea and fatigue.

What are the causes of chest pain in woman? ›

In some cases, pain or discomfort may be due to other causes, such as heartburn, reflux, a lung-related issue, or another problem affecting the heart. Although some possible causes of chest pain are less serious, a woman should seek help immediately as this symptom may indicate a medical emergency.

How do I know if my chest pain is gas? ›

Symptoms of gas pain in the chest
  1. belching.
  2. indigestion.
  3. voluntary or involuntary passing of excess gas, which may relieve pain.
  4. loss of appetite.
  5. bloating.
  6. pain that shifts to different parts of the abdomen.

How can you tell the difference between cardiac and non cardiac chest pain? ›

Classically, cardiac chest pain is in the left chest. However, it may occur in the center or right chest. Non-cardiac chest pain may have many of the above symptoms. However, non-cardiac chest pain may change with respiration, cough, or position.

What else can cause chest pain besides the heart? ›

This can be due to trauma, arthritis or other conditions such as fibromyalgia. Certain rashes like herpes zoster will cause chest pain localized to the skin. Some lung-related causes include pneumonia, pleurisy (inflammation of the lining of the lungs) or pulmonary embolism (blood clots to lungs).

Can chest pain be caused by stress? ›

How anxiety causes chest pain. When you're anxious, your brain sends a surge of adrenaline and cortisol through your body. These hormones immediately trigger a rapid rise in your heart rate and blood pressure. As a result, many people experience chest pain and sweating, or have a hard time breathing.

What are the signs that a condition is life threatening? ›

Recognizing medical emergencies
  • Bleeding that will not stop.
  • Breathing problems (difficulty breathing, shortness of breath)
  • Change in mental status (such as unusual behavior, confusion, difficulty arousing)
  • Chest pain.
  • Choking.
  • Coughing up or vomiting blood.
  • Fainting or loss of consciousness.
12 Feb 2021

What is the most common reason for hospitalization? ›

Most Common Diagnoses for Inpatient Stays
RankPrincipal diagnosisRate of stays per 100,000
1Liveborn1,106.5
2Septicemia679.5
3Heart failure347.9
4Osteoarthritis345.5
6 more rows

When should you seek medical attention? ›

If someone is showing any of these signs, seek emergency medical care immediately:
  • Trouble breathing.
  • Persistent pain or pressure in the chest.
  • New confusion.
  • Inability to wake or stay awake.
  • Pale, gray, or blue-colored skin, lips, or nail beds, depending on skin tone.

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4. 3 Common Causes of Chest Pain! Emergency or Not!
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