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Chest Pain

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW:

What do I need to know about chest pain?

Chest pain can be caused by a range of conditions, from not serious to life-threatening.

What may cause or increase my risk for chest pain?

  • A digestion problem, such as acid reflux or a stomach ulcer
  • An anxiety attack or a strong emotion, such as anger
  • Infection, inflammation, or a fracture in the bones or cartilage in your chest
  • Poor blood flow to your heart (angina)
  • A life-threatening condition, 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.
    Upper Endoscopy

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).
  • A stent may be 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. You may need more than 1 stent.

What are some healthy living tips?

The following are general healthy guidelines. If the cause of your chest pain is known, 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.
  • 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.
    Healthy Foods
  • 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 weight loss plan if you are overweight.
  • Ask about vaccines you may need. Get the influenza (flu) vaccine every year as soon as recommended, usually in September or October. You may also need a pneumococcal vaccine to prevent pneumonia. The vaccine is usually given every 5 years, starting at age 65. Your healthcare provider can tell you if should get other vaccines, and when to get them.

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

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 call my doctor?

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

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 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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Further information

Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.