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Chest Pain

What causes chest pain?

Chest pain can be caused by a range of conditions, from not serious to life-threatening. It may be caused by a heart attack or a blood clot in your lungs. Sometimes chest pain or pressure is caused by poor blood flow to your heart (angina). Infection, inflammation, or a fracture in the bones or cartilage in your chest can cause pain or discomfort. Chest pain can also be a symptom of a digestive problem, such as acid reflux or a stomach ulcer.

What other symptoms might I have with chest pain?

  • Fever or sweating

  • Nausea or vomiting

  • Shortness of breath

  • Discomfort or pressure that spreads from your chest to your back, jaw, or arm

  • A racing or slow heartbeat

  • Feeling weak, tired, or faint

How is chest pain diagnosed?

Your caregiver will examine you. Describe your chest pain in as much detail as possible. Tell him where your pain is and when it began. Tell him if you notice anything that makes the pain worse or better. Tell him if it is constant or comes and goes. Your caregiver will ask what medicines you use and if you have other medical conditions. He may do the following tests:

  • An ECG (EKG) is a test that records your heart's electrical activity.

  • Blood tests check for heart damage and signs of a heart attack.

  • A chest x-ray may show damage to or fluid around your heart and lungs.

  • An echocardiogram uses sound waves to see if blood is flowing normally through your heart.

  • A CT or MRI scan may show the cause of your chest pain. A CT uses x-rays, and an MRI uses powerful magnets to take pictures of your chest. You may be given dye to help the pictures show up better. Tell your caregiver if you have ever had an allergic reaction to contrast dye. Do not enter the MRI room with anything metal. Metal can cause serious injury. Tell the caregiver if you have any metal in or on your body.

How is chest pain treated?

Your caregiver will treat your symptoms while he determines the cause of your chest pain. You may be given medicine to treat or prevent a blood clot, maintain blood flow to your heart, or decrease pain. You may be referred to a specialist, such as a cardiologist or gastroenterologist.

When should I contact my caregiver?

Contact your caregiver if:

  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

When should I seek immediate care?

Seek care immediately or call 911 if:

  • You have any of the following signs of a heart attack:

    • Squeezing, pressure, or pain in your chest that lasts longer than 5 minutes or returns

    • Discomfort or pain in your back, neck, jaw, stomach, or arm

    • Trouble breathing

    • Nausea or vomiting

    • Lightheadedness or a sudden cold sweat, especially with trouble breathing.

  • You have chest discomfort that gets worse, even with medicine.

  • You cough or vomit blood.

  • Your bowel movements are black or bloody.

  • You cannot stop vomiting, or it hurts to swallow.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your caregivers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

© 2015 Truven Health Analytics Inc. Information is for End User's use only and may not be sold, redistributed or otherwise used for commercial purposes. All illustrations and images included in CareNotes® are the copyrighted property of A.D.A.M., Inc. or Truven Health Analytics.