Chest pain is often the first sign of a heart attack. In the past, people who had chest pain often thought it was caused by indigestion and delayed seeing a doctor. Such delays are very dangerous because a heart attack demands immediate medical attention.


It is true that pain of some kind ( most commonly a dull pressure sensation) usually accompanies a heart attack. However, there are other illnesses, disorders or situations that cause pains in the chest.


Chest pain can be caused by strain to the muscles in the chest wall or the shoulder. It might also be related to an injured rib, bursitis, or arthritis.

Illnesses of the breathing system, such as bronchial asthma, pleurisy, emphysema, or an infection of the lung can also cause chest pain.

If the sac covering the heart becomes inflamed, it can cause pain very much like that of a heart attack. This disorder is called pericarditis.

Shingles, a viral infection involving the nerves sometimes produces a sharp pain if it occurs in the area of the ribs. This can be mistaken for a heart attack.

Referred pain is a pain that originates in one place in your body but is felt in a different part. For example, a disorder of the gall bladder can cause pain that is experienced in the chest.

Certain types of emotional disorders bring on physical symptoms, which may be mistaken for a heart attack. For example, anxiety or depression may cause you to breathe very rapidly. Breathing in too much air too fast may cause chest pain, dizziness, numbness, blurred vision, tingling of face and fingers and other distressing symptoms. With other emotional problems, you may feel continually exhausted, unable to work, highly irritable, suffer from palpitations of the heart, and have alarming chest pains.

Another potential cause is hiatal hernia. The diaphragm is a sheet-like muscle, which separates the chest from the abdomen. The esophagus (or food pipe) goes through an opening in the diaphragm to join the stomach. Sometimes, this opening is stretched and the stomach slides up into the chest through the opening. When this happens, it is called a hiatus hernia. It promotes acid-reflux or GERD, and can mimic a heart attack.

Should you always seek medical attention for chest pain?

Yes, you should see a doctor promptly for examination and diagnosis. If you can describe the pain to the doctor in full detail, you can help assure an accurate diagnosis.

Some of the questions you need to consider are:

  • • What is the exact location of the pain?
  • • How far does the pain extend?
  • • Does it spread to the arm, neck, back or jaw?
  • • How long does the pain last?
  • • Does it have a regular pattern?
  • • What best describes the pain — throbbing, aching, burning, tearing, stabbing, crushing, or pinching?
  • • What were you doing when the pain began?
  • • Do you have any other symptoms along with the pain, such as shortness of breath, nausea, fever, changes in bowel habits, stiffness of joints?
Remember, your doctor is the best person to diagnose the cause of your chest pain. If your doctor is not available, and the pain persists, seek treatment at a hospital emergency room immediately.

Web Analytics