Pain always warrants a trip to the doctor’s office. Whether it is mild or severe, it often frightens individuals especially if their pain increases gradually and becomes unbearable.

A type of pain that can truly scare people and force them to make a quick trip to the ER is chest pain. This pain appears in many degrees, ranging from a sharp stab to a dull ache. In most cases, patients’ first assumption is that they are having a heart attack, so health care providers immediately do a couple of tests to rule it out.

However, chest pain can also be caused by a number of reasons which have nothing to do with the heart.

So, before you start panicking and taking medications like Amlodipine to manage your pain, it is important to become familiar with the other possible causes of chest pain as well the signs you should be wary of and treatment methods.

Causes of chest pain

Although chest pain is a well-established sign of a heart attack, it can also be caused by a number of other medical conditions, like:

  • Angina
  • Myocarditis
  • Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
  • Pneumonia
  • Bronchospasm
  • Asthma
  • Muscle strain
  • Injured ribs
  • Shingles
  • Anxiety and panic attacks

For example, angina is a feeling of pain, squeezing, tightness or pressure in the chest. It happens when a part of the heart does not receive enough oxygen due to blockages in the blood vessels leading to your heart. Although it is not life-threatening, it can resemble the symptoms of a heart attack, indicating that you are suffering from heart disease.

On the other hand, less severe health conditions such as panic attacks can also cause chest pain. These attacks are intense episodes of sudden fear which occurs when there is no apparent threat or danger.

Warning signs to be wary of

When experiencing chest pain, there are a few warning signs and symptoms you should be wary of. These include:

  • Excessive sweating
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Shortness of breath
  • Light-headedness or fainting
  • A rapid or irregular heartbeat
  • Pain in your back, neck, jaw, shoulder, arm or upper abdomen

While most of these signs are heart-related, there are some that are associated with other types of chest pain such as having a sour taste or sensation of food re-entering your mouth, trouble swallowing, changes in pain when you switch body positions, pain getting worse when you breathe deeply or cough, tenderness when you push on your chest as well as any persisting pain.

Diagnosis of chest pain

To evaluate chest pain, medical professionals do several immediate and follow-up tests such as an electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG), blood tests, chest X-ray, computerized tomography (CT) scan, stress tests, echocardiogram and angiogram.

For example, an EKG test is an immediate examination which measures the electrical activity of the heart. A health care provider places sticky patches called electrodes on the patient’s chest, arms and legs whose wires are connected to a computer and display test results. The examination will show whether the heart is beating too fast, too slow or not at all.

The great thing about using EKG to evaluate chest pain is that it may show that you have had or are having a heart attack.

Treatment of chest pain

The treatment method is usually determined based on what’s causing your chest pain. While mild causes of chest pain are treated with medications such as artery relaxers, thrombolytic drugs and antidepressants, patients with more serious symptoms may have to undergo surgical procedures.

For example, angioplasty is a procedure used to treat chest pain that is caused by a blockage in an artery feeding the heart. The doctor inserts a catheter with a balloon on the end into a large blood vessel and guides the catheter to the blockage.

Next, he inflates the balloon to widen the artery, then deflates it and removes the catheter. A stent is placed on the outside of the balloon tip of the catheter which when expanded, the stent locks into place and keeps the artery open.

Final thoughts

Chest pain is something that cannot be ignored. This pain can appear in many forms, can be crushing or burning and even travel up to various parts of the body causing great discomfort. While many believe that chest pain is a sign of a heart attack, there are other causes which people need to be aware of in order to take the right steps in treating the pain.

For more detailed information, refer back to our post and learn about the most common causes, symptoms and treatment methods of chest pain. 

By Manali