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How Do I Know if My Chest Pain is Serious?

How Do I Know if My Chest Pain is Serious?

Chest pain remained a top reason for visits in BRG’s three emergency rooms, with an almost 11% increase in 2022 from the previous year. It can come in different forms – discomfort, tightness, sharp jab -- and with different possible causes, and some symptoms may not have to do with your heart at all. Regardless of the reason for chest pain, it should always be taken seriously.

For someone having a heart attack, most of us envision that sudden, sharp chest pain and difficulty breathing, but it doesn’t happen that way a lot of the time. Many heart attacks start slowly, with mild pain or discomfort that increases. And the pain people experience tends to be on a spectrum -- anywhere from a dull ache to pressure to a crushing pain.

Some symptoms outside of chest pain include fatigue, shortness of breath, or discomfort in the throat, jaw, neck, arms, back and stomach. You may also experience heartburn, nausea or vomiting, which can mimic digestive issues.

People with heart disease may regularly experience discomfort that’s not quite “pain” in the chest. Typically, this happens after some type of physical exertion and goes away after resting. While not a heart attack, this usually means there is some blockage in the arteries and should serve as a warning sign.

Outside of a heart attack, there are other common reasons for chest pain:

  • Lung issues: If chest pain gets better or worse when you change positions or gets worse only when you inhale deeply or cough, it may be a lung-related issue, like an asthma attack, blood clots in the lungs or pneumonia.
  • Digestive issues: Chest pain can be caused by heartburn, a painful, burning sensation behind the breastbone. But, severe heartburn and a heart attack can sometimes be hard to tell apart. If the sensation occurs after eating or while lying down, comes with a sour taste in your mouth, or feels better with antacids, it is probably just heartburn. A less common cause is a muscle spasm in the esophagus or gallbladder pain that travels to the chest.
  • Panic attacks: Anxiety and panic attacks can bring on chest pain, sometimes a very sudden, stabbing pain. But, it may last only 5-10 seconds.

You shouldn’t ignore any type of chest pain, especially if you have any heart disease risk factors. It’s best to play it safe and seek care right away even if you don’t think it’s a heart attack. When you get the pain checked out right away, doctors can get a better idea of the root cause.

Nakia Newsome

Nakia Newsome, MD
Baton Rouge Cardiology Center

Phone: (225) 769-0933