Chest pain is merely a symptom, not a diagnosis. Many medical problems can cause chest
pain, and before the chest pain can be adequately treated, the actual underlying cause needs
to be identified. The following is a list of the more common causes of chest pain, roughly in
order of the frequency in which they are seen in the emergency room. Chest pain is one of
the most frightening symptoms you can have. It is sometimes difficult even for a doctor or
other medical professional to tell what is causing chest pain and whether it is life threatening.
Chest pain is one of the most common reasons people call for emergency medical help.
Every year emergency room doctors evaluate and treat millions of people for chest pain.
Chest pain isn’t just a problem for adults. It may occur in a child as well. Many of the causes
aren’t serious, but they may require a doctor’s attention. Follow this chart for more
information about chest pain in infants and children.
Physical activity that involves the chest muscles, especially when it is new or more strenuous
than usual, can cause muscles soreness. The pain is longer-lasting than most episodes of
ischemic pain and is often made better or worse by a particular position. Taking a deep
breath may make the pain worse, and it may only affect a specific area of the chest. Pressing
on this area of the chest usually causes the pain to become worse.
Angina: Angina is chest pain related to an imbalance between the oxygen demand of the
heart and the amount of oxygen delivered via the blood. It is caused by blockage or
narrowing of the blood vessels that supply blood to the heart. Angina is different from a heart
attack in that the arteries are not completely blocked. Also, angina causes little or no
permanent damage to the heart. Stable angina occurs while exercising and goes away with
rest. Unstable angina is not relieved by rest or actually occurs at rest.
Chest pain is a common symptom which can be caused by many different conditions. Some
causes of chest pain require prompt medical attention, such as angina, heart attack, or tearing
of the aorta. Other causes of chest pain can be evaluated electively, such as spasm of the
esophagus, gallbladder attack, or inflammation of the chest wall. Therefore, an accurate
diagnosis is important in providing proper treatment to patients with chest pain. The
diagnosis and treatment of angina is discussed below, as well as the diagnosis of other causes
of chest pain that can mimic angina.
Fortunately, chest pain doesn’t always signal a heart attack. Often chest pain is unrelated to
any heart problem. But even if the chest pain you experience has nothing to do with your
cardiovascular system, the problem may still be important — and worth the time spent in an
emergency room to have your chest pain evaluated.
Heart attack — A heart attack, or myocardial infarction (MI), occurs when a fatty plaque
ruptures. A blood clot (thrombus) can form on the plaque, which can partially or completely
block the artery. This blockage slows or blocks blood flow to the area of heart muscle fed by
that artery. If this continues for more than 15 minutes, the muscle can become damaged or
infarcted (that is, the tissue in that area dies). During a heart attack, the
patient may feel a discomfort that is similar to an episode of ischemia. A heart attack results
from a prolonged period of angina.
Sudden sharp chest pain mimicking the same symptoms of a myocardial infarction or
angina. The chest pain my be affected by breathing and may persist for several days and may
recur. Generally, pericarditis is presumed to have a viral cause and therefore show flu like
symptoms prior to the attack.