Chest pain can be frightening, and should always be taken very seriously. If you are experiencing severe pain or a crushing, squeezing pressure in your chest, especially if this pain moves into your neck, left shoulder or arm, you should seek emergency medical care immediately. Do not drive yourself.
Even a passing pain in the chest could be a warning sign for heart attack or one of many other life threatening conditions. It might also indicate a non-threatening condition, like a passing inflammation or acid reflux but you need to let a medical professional determine the severity and nature of your discomfort.
- Crushing or squeezing weight on the chest that lasts more than a few minutes
- Shortness of breath
- Nausea or vomiting
- Pain that spreads from the chest to the back, neck, arms or belly
- Irregular heart beat
- Severe fatigue
- Angina that does not go away using your doctor’s prescribed home treatment plan
Who is at risk?
Anyone at any age might experience chest pains for a variety of reasons. The duration and frequency of the pain are key indicators of the need for treatment. In persons over 40 or those who possess risk factors for heart disease (male sex, obesity, smoking history, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes) chest pains are a classic heart attack warning and should be regarded with extreme caution.
In persons under 40, chest pain might be caused by an upper respiratory infection, shingles, heartburn or a broken rib. More serious problems that cause chest pain may include a collapsed lung (sharp, stabbing pain with shortness of breath), a blood clot in the lung (deep chest pain and shortness of breath) or even a more chronic condition such as lung cancer. Pinched nerves in the spine might also cause a sudden onset of chest pain.
If you are experiencing acute pain, seek emergency medical care right away. While waiting for an ambulance or in transit to a hospital you may want to take two to four chewable baby aspirin or a single adult aspirin which are proven to help decrease clot formation in the coronary arteries. Home treatment for angina (mild, recurring chest pain), aside from doctor prescribed nitroglycerin tablets, includes rest, balanced eating, maintaining a healthy weight, limiting alcohol and tobacco consumption, stress management and an exercise regimen as guided by your physician.
Chest pain caused by acid reflux might be comforted with antacids. It is worth noting that up to 50% of all persons with heart attacks presenting to the emergency department also experience acid reflux. This is why it’s important to let a physician help you decide if your condition is life threatening or not.
Emergency Warning Signs: When should I see a doctor?
If you experience any of the symptoms listed above you should be seen immediately in the nearest hospital emergency room. These symptoms may be the signal that a life threatening condition exists especially if your discomfort worsens with exercise, stress or eating a large meal and goes away with rest. These may be signs of an acute coronary syndrome. Prompt evaluation and treatment are critical to recovery since most heart muscle damage takes place in the first six hours after onset of symptoms. Remember, never drive yourself.
If a person you are with complains of chest pain and becomes unconscious, administer CPR and call 911 immediately.
If you are experiencing very mild symptoms or symptoms that may be attributed to a cold, flu, chronic medical condition or injury, schedule a visit with your primary care physician or stop by Mountain Lakes Medical Center for evaluation. Our experienced acute care staff can help you determine the source of your condition.
For more information on chest pain, you may refer to the following websites:
Disclaimer: The links above are to sites independent of MtLakesMedical.com. The pages will open in a new browser window. The information provided is for educational purposes only, and is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you have or suspect you may have a health problem, you should consult your doctor. Always follow your doctor’s recommendations regarding your specific medical questions, treatments, therapies, and other needs.