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Heart & Vascular

Baylor Scott & White Medical Center – Garland

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Chest Pain 

What Is Chest Pain?

Chest pain is discomfort or pain that you feel anywhere along the front of your body between your neck and upper abdomen.   

Many people with chest pain fear a heart attack. However, there are many possible causes of chest pain. Some causes are mildly inconvenient, while other causes are serious, even life-threatening. Any organ or tissue in your chest can be the source of pain, including your heart, lungs, esophagus, muscles, ribs, tendons, or nerves.  

Heart problems that can cause chest pain:
  • Angina is a type of heart-related chest pain. This pain occurs because your heart is not getting enough blood and oxygen. The most common symptom is chest pain that occurs behind the breast bone or slightly to the left of it. It may feel like tightness, heavy pressure, squeezing, or crushing pain. The pain may spread to the arm, shoulder, jaw, or back.
  • Heart attack pain can be similar to the pain of unstable angina, but more severe.
  • Aortic dissection causes sudden, severe pain in the chest and upper back.
  • Inflammation or infection in the tissue around the heart (pericarditis) causes pain in the center part of the chest. 
Lung problems that can cause chest pain:
  • Pneumonia, which causes chest pain that usually feels sharp, and often gets worse when you take a deep breath or cough
  • A blood clot in the lung (pulmonary embolism), collapse of a small area of the lung (pneumothorax), or inflammation of the lining around the lung (pleurisy) can cause chest pain that usually feels sharp, and often gets worse when you take a deep breath or cough
  • Asthma, which generally also causes shortness of breath, wheezing, or coughing
Other causes of chest pain:
  • Strain or inflammation of the muscles and tendons between the ribs
  • Inflammation where the ribs join the breast bone or sternum (costochondritis)
  • Shingles (sharp, tingling pain on one side that stretches from the chest to the back)
  • Anxiety and rapid breathing 
Chest pain can also be related to the following digestive system problems:
  • Heartburn or gastroesophageal reflux (GERD)
  • Stomach ulcer (burning pain occurs if your stomach is empty and feels better when you eat food)
  • Gallbladder (pain often gets worse after a meal, especially a fatty meal)

Signs It’s Time Contact a Medical Professional

Call 911 if:
  • You have sudden crushing, squeezing, tightening, or pressure in your chest.
  • Pain radiates to your jaw, left arm, or between your shoulder blades.
  • You have nausea, dizziness, sweating, a racing heart, or shortness of breath.
  • You know you have angina and your chest discomfort is suddenly more intense, brought on by lighter activity or lasts longer than usual.
  • Your angina symptoms occur at rest.
  • You have sudden sharp chest pain with shortness of breath, especially after a long trip, a stretch of bedrest (for example, following an operation), or other lack of movement that can lead to a blood clot in your leg.
  • Know that your risk of heart attack is greater if you have a family history of heart disease, you smoke, use cocaine, are overweight, or you have high cholesterol, high blood pressure, or diabetes.
Call your doctor if:
  • You have a fever or a cough that produces yellow-green phlegm.
  • You have chest pain that is severe and does not go away.
  • You are having problems swallowing.
  • Chest wall pain persists for longer than 3 to 5 days.

Preventing Chest Pain

Make healthy lifestyle choices to prevent chest pain from heart disease.

  • Achieve and maintain normal weight.
  • Control high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes.
  • Avoid cigarette smoking and secondhand smoke.
  • Eat a diet low in saturated and hydrogenated fats and cholesterol, and high in starches, fiber, fruits, and vegetables.
  • Get at least 30 minutes of moderate intensity exercise on most days of the week.
  • Reduce stress.