Pain caused by heart disease may be mild or severe, dull or sharp, and remain constant or come-and-go. Heart attacks don’t cause the same type of pain for everyone. And did you know that you can have a silent heart attack (one that doesn’t cause symptoms)? Yes, it’s confusing.
At Memphis Vein Center, Kishore Arcot, MD, FACC, FSCAI, FSVM, RPVI, understands that the variables seem overwhelming and that chest pain is frightening. Here, he offers information to help you identify when your chest pain needs immediate care.
Even if you don’t need emergency attention, you should never ignore chest pain, because it’s the top sign of heart disease and heart attacks.
Non-cardiac conditions causing chest pain
When the pain isn’t caused by your heart, you may have:
- Acid reflux
- Stomach ulcer
- Panic attack
- Pulled muscles (in the chest or rib cage)
These conditions often have signs that set them apart from heart disease.
Lung conditions typically cause pain that’s worse when breathing in or coughing. Acid reflux and ulcers usually feel worse after eating, while pulled muscles hurt more when you move. Gallstones cause sudden, intense pain in your upper right or center abdomen and right shoulder.
Panic attacks are well-known for mimicking a heart attack, but you should feel better within 10-30 minutes. If you’re not sure what’s happening, don’t hesitate to seek help. You should never wait a half hour to get treatment for a possible heart attack.
Heart disease and chest pain
Nearly every heart condition can cause chest pain, including:
- Congestive heart failure
- Coronary artery disease
- Aortic dissection
- Aortic stenosis
- Heart valve disease
- Myocarditis (inflamed heart muscles)
- Pericarditis (inflammation around your heart)
- Arrhythmias (irregular, slow, or fast heartbeat)
These conditions may not need emergency care, but they definitely require prompt attention and treatment that slows or prevents progressive heart damage.
Five signs your chest pain needs medical attention
The following signs are red flags that your chest pain is a serious problem:
Your pain begins gradually and continues
Chest pain that develops slowly but lasts several minutes or longer usually signals a serious heart problem. Seek medical attention any time your chest pain doesn’t go away.
In contrast, a sharp or stabbing pain that quickly improves is more likely to be a problem other than your heart, or it’s a heart problem that doesn’t need emergency care. You should schedule an office appointment to rule out heart complications.
Your pain is severe or crushing and getting worse
Severe pain that keeps worsening demands emergency medical care because it’s a classic sign of a heart attack. Instead of pain, you may experience a tight feeling or crushing sensation like you have a heavy weight pressing on your chest.
Your pain doesn’t improve if you change positions
You won’t be able to find any position that eases your chest pain if you’re having a heart attack. Other causes of chest pain — like lung conditions — tend to improve when you lie down, sit up, or bend over.
Your chest pain doesn’t improve at rest
Pain that begins when you’re active and feels better at rest usually indicates you have a blocked artery (coronary artery disease). This is a serious condition because coronary artery disease is the top cause of heart attacks.
You need immediate medical care if your chest pain doesn’t improve when you stop exercising or take medication (if you’re under care for angina).
If your pain improves when you rest, schedule an appointment so we can examine your heart, treat the condition, and restore blood flow to your heart.
Your chest pain is accompanied by other symptoms
Chest pain that suddenly appears and is joined by any of the following symptoms signals a heart attack:
- Shortness of breath
- Cold sweats
- Loss of consciousness
- Radiating pain
Heart attacks are known for causing pain in the center of your chest, but your pain may radiate to your jaw, neck, and left arm. You may also feel the pain in your upper back, shoulders, or upper abdomen.
Call 911 immediately if you have signs of a heart attack. If you have any questions about chest pain or need to schedule an appointment, call our Memphis, Tennessee, center or use our online tool today to request a visit.