Chest Pain

1 What is Chest Pain?

Chest pain is a medical condition often described in many ways depending upon the associated symptoms and causes.

People often experience a sharp pain or a dull ache including a crushing or burning sensation. Pain is reported to travel up the neck, into the jaw, and then radiate through to the back or down one or both arms.

Complications may be fatal as vital organs like heart or lungs may get involved.

If the pain persists for longer than expected, medical attention should be sought out immediately

2 Symptoms

Pain in the chest area is the main symptom of chest pain.

Deteriorating health status invites various health problems including chest pain. It does not necessarily mean that chest pain always involves your heart.

However, people with heart disease often report chest pain or discomfort which may be characterized by pressure, tightness in your chest, crushing pain that radiates to your back, neck, jaw, shoulders and arms.

Such condition may last for few minutes to days which may worsen with physical activities. Some may have intermittent pain followed by shortness of breath, cold sweats, dizziness or weakness, nausea or vomiting.

Chest pain associated with heart problem can be predicted to some extent as it is often followed by sour taste or a sensation of food re-entering your mouth, discomfort during swallowing, fluctuation in intensity of pain when you change your body position, intense pain while breathing deeply or cough and chest tenderness.

On the other hand, another cause of chest pain may be heartburn characterized by a painful, burning sensation often arising due to stomach problems. Be advised not to ignore any unexplained chest pain as it may be life threatening.

3 Causes

Identifying the causes of chest pain is challenging. Thus, almost all cases require medical attention.

Some of the major causes of chest pain are listed as follows:

4 Making a Diagnosis

Before a minor chest pain worsens into a complicated and fatal condition, it is wise of you to note down few things to make your health condition diagnosed in an easy manner.

Take note of the following things:

Note the time of start of chest pain, initial sign and symptoms, current or immediate medications you had if any.

If the condition worsens or in case of emergency, do not hesitate to share the following information with the emergency caregiver.
Quick observations and interpretations are made based on results from an electrocardiogram (ECG) and blood tests if you are having a heart attack or not. Your doctor makes a diagnosis based on the answers you provided about yourself.

He/she should know:

  • when the symptoms started
  • if it has gotten worse than before
  • if your pain has radiated to any other parts of your body
  • if you can locate the area of pain, complaints other than chest pain
  • if any trouble breathing, dizziness, lightheadedness or vomiting
  • if any prevalent diseases like hypertension, current medications, consumption of alcohol or caffeine, smoking habit, use of illicit drug etc.

Chest pain doesn't always signal a heart attack. However, it is important to check for the involvement of vital organs including heart and lungs during chest pain as it may be life threatening.

Few immediate tests include:

  • Electrocardiogram (ECG) that shows if it is a heart attack or a heart attack in progress, blood tests to monitor any abnormalities,
  • Chest X-ray to check the normal functioning and status of lungs, computerized tomography (CT scan) to investigate if there is presence of any blood clot, etc.

5 Treatment

Treatment plan for chest pain is prepared on the basis of underlying causes.

Drugs used for the treatment of chest pain associated with heart attack

  • Nitroglycerin: It relaxes coronary arteries easing blood flow through narrowed spaces. Aspirin can be prescribed to you for the same case. Such drugs prevents further clot formation as well as breaks the clot or makes the blood thinner so no clot formation occurs.
  • Antacids: Drugs used for the treatment of chest pain associated with high level of gastric acid such as antacids neutralizes the excess acid as well as other medications suppresses further acid secretion.
  • Antidepressants may be prescribed for panic attacks as well as some psychological therapy may be required.

Surgical procedures

Surgical procedures may be carried out for serious cases of chest pain especially when there is blockade in any form in arteries.

Some of the surgical procedures are:

  • Balloons and Stent Placement: The procedure is carried out by your doctor. It includes insertion of narrow tubing into a large blood vessel in your groin and threading it up to the blockage. Next step is inflating a balloon to reopen the artery. Often, a small wire mesh tube is inserted to keep the artery open.
  • Bypass Surgery: Blood vessel from another part of body is taken out and used to create an alternative route for blood to go around the blocked artery. Similarly dissection repair and lung reinflation techniques may be used for emergency cases like collapsed lungs.
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