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WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW:
What causes chest pain?
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.
What other symptoms might I have with chest pain?
- A burning feeling behind your breastbone
- A racing or slow heartbeat
- Fever or sweating
- Nausea or vomiting
- Shortness of breath
- Discomfort or pressure that spreads from your chest to your back, jaw, or arm
- Feeling weak, tired, or faint
How is the cause of chest pain diagnosed?
Your healthcare provider will examine you. Describe your chest pain in as much detail as possible. Tell him or her where your pain is and when it began. Tell the provider if you notice anything that makes the pain worse or better. Tell him or her if it is constant or comes and goes. Your healthcare provider will ask about any medicines you use and medical conditions you have. He or she will also examine you. You may also need any of the following tests:
- An EKG is a test that records your heart's electrical activity.
- Blood tests check for heart damage and signs of a heart attack.
- An echocardiogram uses sound waves to see if blood is flowing normally through your heart.
- An ultrasound, x-ray, CT, or MRI scan may show the cause of your chest pain. You may be given contrast liquid to help your heart show up better in the pictures. Tell the healthcare provider if you have ever had an allergic reaction to contrast liquid. Do not enter the MRI room with anything metal. Metal can cause serious injury. Tell the healthcare provider if you have any metal in or on your body.
- An endoscopy may be done to check for ulcers or problem with your esophagus.
How is chest pain treated?
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, or hormones (estrogen or progestin). You may need to have one or more stents placed if your chest pain is caused by blockage in your heart. A stent is a wire mesh tube that helps hold your artery open.
What are some healthy living tips?
The following are general healthy guidelines. If your chest pain is caused by a heart problem, your healthcare provider will give you specific guidelines to follow.
- 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.
- Eat a variety of healthy, low-fat and low-salt foods. Healthy foods include fruits, vegetables, whole-grain breads, low-fat dairy products, beans, lean meats, and fish. Ask for more information about a heart healthy diet.
- Drink plenty of water every day. Your body is made of mostly water. 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 how much you should weigh. Ask him or her to help you create a weight loss plan if you are overweight.
Call 911 if:
- You have any of the following signs of a heart attack:
- Squeezing, pressure, or pain in your chest
- and 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
When should I seek immediate care?
- 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.
When should I contact my healthcare provider?
- You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.
Care AgreementYou have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your healthcare providers 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.
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