Chest pain doesn't always originate in your heart. But it's the top symptom of heart disease, the most common sign of a heart attack, and a red flag alerting you to other potentially serious problems.
For these reasons, you should never ignore chest pain, especially if it keeps returning.
Board-certified cardiologist Kishore K. Arcot, MD, at Memphis Vein Center quickly evaluates your heart. He determines if you need immediate medical care and provides treatment that can prevent chronic heart disease from getting worse.
He also offers recommendations about what to do if your symptoms are not related to your heart.
Chest pain that you keep experiencing — that comes and goes — could occur due to any of the five possible causes listed here.
Heart disease and heart attacks
Heart disease is the most common cause of chest pain. Chest pain typically occurs in every type of chronic heart condition, and most (but not all) heart attacks.
Chest pain that lasts longer than a few minutes is an important warning of a heart attack. If you're having a heart attack, the pain (or crushing pressure) usually persists and gets progressively worse.
But the pain of a heart attack can build, disappear, and then return. Many people also experience pain that radiates to their arms, neck, back, or shoulders.
Your chest pain has a higher chance of signaling a heart problem when the pain is accompanied by other symptoms, such as:
- Shortness of breath
- Palpitations (racing heart, fluttering in your chest)
- Leg swelling
- Abdominal bloating
- Chest pain when active
- Persistent cough
- Nausea and vomiting
These symptoms can appear in many types of heart disease, including coronary artery disease, congestive heart failure, arrhythmias, cardiomyopathy, myocarditis, and pericarditis.
Most people know what it's like to have a severe case of heartburn due to acid reflux or its more severe and chronic cousin, gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). In fact, GERD represents the most common cause of non-heart-related chest pain.
This problem occurs when acid comes out of your stomach and into your esophagus, resulting in pain in the center of your chest.
Heartburn isn't the only GI condition capable of causing chest pain. You may experience recurrent chest pain if you have gallstones, an inflamed gallbladder or pancreas, or an esophageal disorder.
You can usually identify a lung problem because the chest pain occurs when you breathe or cough. The lung conditions most likely to cause chest pain include pneumonia, bronchitis, asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and asthma.
Though not as common, a pulmonary embolism causes a sudden, sharp chest pain. Pulmonary embolisms develop when a blood clot in your leg (deep vein thrombosis) breaks free and travels to the lungs.
Like a heart attack, a pulmonary embolism represents a life-threatening emergency that needs immediate medical attention.
Stress and anxiety
When you feel anxious or stressed, your brain sends a rush of adrenaline and cortisol through your body. Both hormones increase your heart rate and blood pressure and narrow your arteries, causing chest pain and difficulty breathing.
The symptoms that stress and anxiety cause can be so severe that you think you're having a heart attack.
Stress and anxiety can also cause a condition called stress cardiomyopathy, which causes abnormal heart rhythms and symptoms mimicking a heart attack.
Stress cardiomyopathy usually heals within a few days or weeks. But it can result in chronic heart problems, such as congestive heart failure, weak heart muscles, and ongoing arrhythmias.
Problems with your ribs and upper spine, as well as their supporting muscles and ligaments, can all lead to chest pain. This type of chest pain may be ongoing or occur when you make certain movements.
Don't wait to seek help for chest pain. Call us at our Memphis, Tennessee, center today or request an appointment through our online system.