C9. Chest Pain 2

Chest Pain

What is chest pain?

Pain in your chest can come at you in different ways. It can be dull or sharp. Or it can feel like pressure, tightness or burning.

Anyone can develop chest pain for a variety of reasons. It can be a symptom of heart and lung disorders, infection or digestive problems. Chest pain can be temporary, or it can be a chronic condition (lasting six months or more).

Treatment for chest pain depends on what’s causing it. You may feel better with rest and medication. If the pain is a sign of a more serious condition, you may need a procedure to treat it.

Sometimes, chest pain can signal a life-threatening problem. See your healthcare provider right away if you have chest pain. For severe chest pain, you should seek emergency treatment.

Possible Causes

What causes chest pain?

Many diseases and disorders can cause chest pain. If an underlying medical condition causes chest pain, your healthcare provider will treat the condition or help you manage it.
Causes of chest pain may include:

  • Blockages: A heart attack (blockage in an artery leading to the heart) or pulmonary embolism (blood clot blocking an artery in the lung) can cause sudden and severe chest pain.
  • Digestive disorders: Conditions involving the abnormal flow of stomach acid, such as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), can lead to chest pain.
  • Disease and infection: Cancer, musculoskeletal problems and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) can cause chest pain. Chest pain can also be a sign of infections like pneumonia.
  • Heart problems: Chest pain is a common sign of heart disorders. These conditions include coronary heart disease (CHD) or coronary artery disease (CAD) reflected as angina (not enough blood flow to the heart), and pericarditis (inflammation of the thin layer of tissue surrounding your heart).
  • Injury: Chest injuries, including a broken rib or pulled chest muscle, can make your chest hurt.
  • Lung problems: Chest pain often occurs in people with lung problems. Pleurisy or pleuritis (inflammation of the thin membrane that surrounds your lungs) or pneumothorax (collapsed lung) can be painful.
  • Mental health conditions: Stress and anxiety can cause physical symptoms such as chest tightness.

Care and Treatment

How can my healthcare provider manage chest pain?

To relieve chest pain, your provider will treat (or help you manage) the cause. Your treatment may include medication or a medical procedure, if indicated. Medications your provider recommends for chest pain may include:

  • Antacids: Medicines that neutralize the acid in your stomach.
  • Anxiety reducers: Medicines used to treat anxiety.
  • Artery relaxers: Medicines that improve blood flow in the arteries.
  • Blood thinners: Medicines that prevent your blood from clotting in your arteries by thinning the blood.

Some causes of chest pain may need surgery. Procedures for chest pain may include:

  • Angioplasty and stenting: A minimally invasive procedure to unblock a coronary artery, generally including a balloon immediately followed by a stent to hold open the artery.
  • Bypass surgery: Procedure that reroutes blood flow around a blockage so it can reach the heart.
  • Lung reinflation: A chest tube inserted into the area around the lung to release air that’s pressuring the lung so it can re-expand.

How can I reduce my risk of chest pain?

Lifestyle changes can help reduce your risk of heart disease and other causes of chest pain. To live a heart-healthy life, you can:

  • Eat a healthy diet to avoid diseases like diabetes, hypertension, gastroesophageal reflux and high cholesterol.
  • Exercise often to maintain a healthy weight and relieve stress.
  • Limit the amount of alcohol you drink.
  • Quit tobacco.

When to Call the Doctor

When should I call my healthcare provider about chest pain?

Chest pain can be a sign of a life-threatening health condition. You should go to an emergency room if you have new, unexplained chest pain that lasts for more than five minutes. Get emergency care if you have chest pain along with:

  • Cold sweat.
  • Lightheadedness.
  • Nausea.
  • Pain in the neck, back or jaw.
  • Shortness of breath.

You should also see your provider about less severe chest pain. Tell your provider if you have chest pain that:

  • Lasts longer than a week.
  • Occurs for 30 seconds or less.
  • Makes it hard to perform your daily activities.