Medically reviewed by Drugs.com. Last updated on Jan 5, 2023.
Chest pain can be caused by a range of conditions, from not serious to life-threatening. Chest pain can be a symptom of a digestive problem, such as acid reflux or a stomach ulcer. An anxiety attack or a strong emotion, such as anger, can also cause chest pain. Infection, inflammation, or a fracture in the bones or cartilage in your chest can cause pain or discomfort. Sometimes chest pain or pressure is caused by poor blood flow to your heart (angina). Chest pain may also be caused by life-threatening conditions such as a heart attack or blood clot in your lungs.
Call your local emergency number (911 in the US) or have someone call if:
- You have any of the following signs of a heart attack:
- Squeezing, pressure, or pain in your chest
- You may also have any of the following:
- Discomfort or pain in your back, neck, jaw, stomach, or arm
- Shortness of breath
- Nausea or vomiting
- Lightheadedness or a sudden cold sweat
Return to the emergency department if:
- 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.
Call your doctor if:
- You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.
- Medicines may be given to treat the cause of your chest pain. Examples include pain medicine, anxiety medicine, or medicines to increase blood flow to your heart.
- Do not take certain medicines without asking your healthcare provider first. These include NSAIDs, herbal or vitamin supplements, and hormones, such as estrogen or progestin.
- Take your medicine as directed. Contact your healthcare provider if you think your medicine is not helping or if you have side effects. Tell your provider if you are allergic to any medicine. Keep a list of the medicines, vitamins, and herbs you take. Include the amounts, and when and why you take them. Bring the list or the pill bottles to follow-up visits. Carry your medicine list with you in case of an emergency.
Healthy living tips:
If the cause of your chest pain is known, your healthcare provider will give you specific guidelines to follow. The following are general healthy guidelines:
- Do not smoke. Nicotine and other chemicals in cigarettes and cigars can cause lung and heart damage. Ask your healthcare provider for information if you currently smoke and need help to quit. E-cigarettes or smokeless tobacco still contain nicotine. Talk to your healthcare provider before you use these products.
- Choose a variety of healthy foods as often as possible. Include fresh, frozen, or canned fruits and vegetables. Also include low-fat dairy products, fish, chicken (without skin), and lean meats. Your healthcare provider or a dietitian can help you create meal plans. You may need to avoid certain foods or drinks if your pain is caused by a digestion problem.
- Lower your sodium (salt) intake. Limit foods that are high in sodium, such as canned foods, salty snacks, and cold cuts. If you add salt when you cook food, do not add more at the table. Choose low-sodium canned foods as much as possible.
- Drink plenty of water every day. Water helps your body to control your temperature and blood pressure. Ask your healthcare provider how much water you should drink every day.
- Ask about activity. Your healthcare provider will tell you which activities to limit or avoid. Ask when you can drive, return to work, and have sex. Ask about the best exercise plan for you.
- Maintain a healthy weight. Ask your healthcare provider what a healthy weight is for you. Ask him or her to help you create a safe weight loss plan if you are overweight.
- Ask about vaccines you may need. Your healthcare provider can tell you which vaccines you need, and when to get them. The following vaccines help prevent diseases that can become serious for a person with a heart condition:
- The influenza (flu) vaccine is given each year. Get a flu vaccine as soon as recommended, usually in September or October.
- The pneumonia vaccine is usually given every 5 years. Your healthcare provider may recommend the pneumonia vaccine if you are 65 or older.
- COVID-19 vaccines are given to adults as a shot in 1 or 2 doses. Vaccination is recommended for all adults. A booster (additional) dose is also recommended for all adults. A second booster is recommended for all adults 50 or older and for immunocompromised adults 18 or older. The second booster is also recommended for adults who received the 1-dose vaccine for the first and booster doses. Your healthcare provider can tell you when to get one or both boosters.
Follow up with your doctor within 72 hours, or as directed:
You may need to return for more tests to find the cause of your chest pain. You may be referred to a specialist, such as a cardiologist or gastroenterologist. Write down your questions so you remember to ask them during your visits.
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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.
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