As many as 40% of the world’s population suffers from chest pain — some of it relatively benign, and some of it a sign of a life-threatening problem like heart disease, the leading cause of death in the United States. Generally speaking, you should never ignore chest pain. But when is it serious enough to warrant a trip to the doctor or emergency room?
As a leading cardiovascular care practice in Port St. Lucie, Florida, TLC Medical Group provides comprehensive care for people with all sorts of heart disease. To help patients understand the causes of chest pain — and when it’s time to seek medical care — Anthony B. Lewis, MD, FACC, and his team have compiled this quick overview.
The many causes of chest pain
When you feel a pain in your chest, it’s normal to worry about heart problems. But the fact is, many types of chest pain are completely unrelated to the heart. Of course, that doesn’t mean these causes don’t need a doctor’s care, too.
Esophagus or stomach problems
Heartburn got its name for a reason — it can cause burning and painful sensations in your chest. You might notice this pain after eating spicy or greasy foods or when lying down at night.
Recurrent heartburn could be a symptom of gastroesophageal reflux, or GERD, a chronic condition that develops when stomach acid flows backward into your esophagus. A stomach ulcer or hiatal hernia can also cause chest pain.
Sometimes, a pulled or strained muscle in your chest can cause chest pain. Other times, the cartilage in your chest wall can become inflamed, a condition called costochondritis. This type of pain is typically associated with certain movements and relieved when you rest or change position. Muscle pain may occur after a day of heavy lifting or other strenuous activity, or it might follow an illness where you’ve had a lot of coughing.
Issues with your lungs can also cause chest pain. That includes diseases like asthma, COPD, pneumonia, or tuberculosis. A collapsed lung or a lung tumor can also cause chest pain.
Recognizing heart-related chest pain
Chest pain that’s related to the heart is called angina, and it’s most commonly caused by cardiovascular disease, including coronary artery disease. Pain typically occurs when the blood supply to your heart is interrupted, reducing the flow of oxygen to the heart muscle.
With so many potential causes of chest pain, how can you tell when your pain is related to your heart? In general, if your chest pain is accompanied by any of these symptoms, it could be a sign of a heart attack:
- Pain radiating into the neck, arm, jaw, or back
- Intense pressure or squeezing in your chest
- Nausea or vomiting
- Dizziness or lightheadedness
- Shortness of breath
- Rapid onset of deep fatigue
- Pain that rapidly gets worse
- Intense sweating
Today, there are multiple treatment options for angina, and our team will work closely with you to ensure your treatment is the best one for your needs and your future health.
Remember, these are very basic guidelines. Because chest pain can affect different people in different ways, it should never be ignored. The best way to find out what’s really causing your symptoms is to schedule a visit with our team so we can perform an exam and order tests to identify the cause and provide the most appropriate treatment recommendations for your needs.
Find out what’s causing your symptoms
Bottom line: Chest pain isn’t normal. Even though it might not be due to a serious or imminent medical problem, it still needs to be evaluated and treated. If you’re having any type of chest pain, don’t put off having it evaluated. Call our office or use our form to book an appointment online or, if you think you might be having a heart attack, call 9-1-1 right away.