Chest pain may be associated with a number of different medical issues, including some serious cardiovascular conditions. This symptom describes pain or discomfort affecting the chest or thoracic region of the body which may manifest differently from person to person. While chest pain does not always necessarily signify a major health risk, it can be a symptom of some severe and life-threatening issues and should always be taken seriously.
There are many cardiovascular and noncardiovascular causes of chest pain. A heart attack (myocardial infarction) is one of the most serious reasons why you may experience chest pain, but it can also point to other cardiac conditions including:
Non-cardiac causes may be as simple as a case of heartburn, but can also include serious conditions such as a lung infection (e.g. pneumonia, pulmonary embolism) or costochondritis, which is an inflammation of the cartilage of your ribcage. Chest pain can also be caused by trauma which has caused an injury such as a collapsed lung or bruised, cracked, or broken ribs.
Chest pain may make itself felt as sharp, stabbing pain, a dull ache, or itching and burning. It may be limited to the immediate chest region or radiate outward to the arms, upper back, or even jaw. Pain that does not abate over a long period of time or grows worse should be immediately reported to a doctor, especially if you have a personal or family history of heart health issues..
Because chest pain can be caused by a wide array of medical conditions, risk factors can vary significantly depending on the cause. A family history of conditions such as coronary artery disease, high blood pressure, hyperlipidemia, or diabetes can increase your risk of chest pain symptoms, as can lifestyle factors such as unhealthy diet, not getting enough exercise, smoking cigarettes, or drinking alcohol to excess.
Your doctor will begin by reviewing your chest pain symptoms with you, establishing the specifics of the sensation of pain, where it is localized, and any relevant family history that could indicate the likeliest cause. Diagnostic tools that can be used to identify the cause of chest pain include echocardiogram, stress echocardiogram, lab tests to check for cardiac enzyme breakdown or inflammation, and imaging procedures such as a chest x-ray. Advanced imaging such as a CTA or cardiac catheterization may also be used. In the event of a heart attack or other life-threatening issue, immediate diagnosis is critical to optimizing the chances of survival and recovery.
Treatment for chest pain will depend on the root cause of the issue and may range from medications to lifestyle changes such as quitting smoking, getting more exercise, or switching to a more heart-healthy diet. It is also vitally important to manage any related conditions such as diabetes or hypertension. If chest pain is found to be the result of an arterial blockage, a major treatment such as a stent or bypass may be required.
It’s important to know your family history and whether you may be at a higher personal risk of heart disease or other cardiovascular conditions. A heart-healthy diet, low in saturated fat and cholesterol and high in fiber, can also reduce your long-term risk of heart attack. If you have diabetes, you should also be careful to follow your doctor’s recommendations to maintain a healthy blood sugar level.
Chest pain should not be ignored, as it may indicate a number of serious health risks, including potentially fatal conditions such as heart attack, worsening infection or inflammation, tamponade, or pulmonary embolism.
Chronic conditions that can cause chest pain include musculoskeletal pain, angina, lung infection, and chronic inflammation.
Chest pain may vary in duration, sensation, and severity, but should always be taken seriously as it may indicate the presence of a potentially life-threatening cardiac condition such as heart attack or pulmonary embolism. Reporting chest pain symptoms to a doctor immediately is critical to reducing the risk of death or other serious health consequences. Once the root cause of chest pain symptoms has been established, your doctor can usually help you create a treatment plan using a combination of medication, lifestyle changes, and other interventions. In emergency situations, bypass or stent surgery may be necessary.