Chest pain may be caused
by heart disease -- or it may be caused by a condition that has nothing to do with your
Noncardiac causes of chest pain include:
diseases of the esophagus, peptic ulcer disease, gallbladder disease, pancreatitis, muscle
or bone problems, hyperventilation, anxiety, and pneumonia and other lung diseases. Chest
wall pain may also be produced by coughing due to cigarette smoking or illness. If you
have recently undergone
surgery for the heart, lungs or other organs
located in the chest, you also may experience pain as part of the healing process.
Heart-related causes of chest pain include:
coronary artery disease, myocardial infarction (heart attack), aortic dissection (tear in
the aorta), pericarditis (inflammation of the lining around the heart), and mitral valve
prolapse (bowing of one of the heart's four valves).
Is All Chest Pain Alike?
The experience of chest pain and discomfort differs from individual to individual and
varies according to the source of the pain. The severity of the chest pain sometimes has
little to do with the seriousness of the underlying illness.
What Should I Do if I Experience New
or Unusual Chest Pain?
Certain types of chest pain are likely to be caused by cardiac disease. Sometimes chest
pain may indicate that you are having a heart attack. If you experience any of the
following symptoms, you should seek immediate medical attention:
|a dull ache, numbness or pressure; |
|a crushing, squeezing, or choking sensation; |
|a tight band around your chest; |
|feeling as if an elephant is sitting on your
|pain that spreads from your chest to your
shoulders, neck, arms, back, abdomen, teeth or jaw; |
|pain accompained by shortness of breath,
irregular pulse, sweating, or dizziness.|
If you are confused or uncertain about your
symptoms, it is wise to seek prompt medical evaluation. It is better to pursue a false
alarm than to ignore a potentially serious situation.
What Is Angina?
Angina, or angina pectoris, is chest pain caused by coronary artery disease. If you have
angina, you probably experience pain or discomfort during or immediately after exertion,
after heavy meals, during sudden intense stress or anger, or during exposure to cold.
If I Complain of Chest Pain, What Will
My Doctor Do?
Your doctor will conduct a complete history and physical examination. He may suspect
cardiac or noncardiac sources of pain. To help diagnose cardiological problems, he will
ask you questions about your lifestyle.
Your doctor will be especially interested in
your family's history of cardiac illness, your diet, your smoking and drinking history,
your exercise habits, and your approach to stress management. Your answers will help him
diagnose or eliminate heart disease as a source of your pain.
Your doctor may order diagnostic testing. The
tests which diagnose heart disease include: a chest x-ray, an electrocardiogram (ECG), an
exercise tolerance test, pharmacological stress testing, an echocardiogram, or cardiac
If your doctor knows that your chest pain is
due to noncardiac causes, he will not order additional cardiac testing.
How Is Chest Pain Treated?
Treatment varies depending upon the source of the pain. Sometimes rest or over-the counter
medications will relieve your symptoms. Consult with your physician to determine the best
course of treatment.