Chest pain is never normal. Pain is how your body tells you there’s a problem. But chest pain doesn’t always mean you have a heart problem. And sometimes chest pain is expected because it’s a “normal” symptom of a chronic health condition.
The challenge of chest pain is that it arises from many possible causes. At Corrielus Cardiology, Dr. Sanul Corrielus will be able to tell if your chest pain signals a heart attack or another problem after he evaluates your symptoms and runs diagnostic tests.
Since you can never be sure about the reason for your chest pain, you should always take it seriously and seek medical care.
In the meantime, you’ll be better prepared for chest pain when you know more about the different causes and their symptoms.
Non-heart-related chest pain
Chest pain is a common symptom caused by conditions such as:
- Heartburn (acid reflux and gastroesophageal reflux disease)
- Pulled muscles or tendons in the chest or rib cage
- Stomach ulcers
- Panic attacks
Most of these conditions cause chest pain that’s different from the pain of a heart attack. For example, non-heart-related chest pain may occur when you move or come from a precise location outside your heart.
Chest pain from conditions that aren’t related to your heart typically comes and goes or doesn’t last long. By comparison, the chest pain associated with a heart attack is unrelenting, and you won’t get relief from the pain by relaxing or taking an antacid.
Heart conditions and their symptoms
Chest pain is a symptom of virtually every type of heart condition, but in most, the pain occurs together with other symptoms.
A few of the most common heart conditions include pericarditis, myocarditis, heart valve disease, aortic dissection, and coronary artery disease.
Pericarditis refers to an inflammation of the tissues surrounding your heart. The pain caused by pericarditis is typically described as sharp or stabbing, but you could also have a dull, achy type of chest pain. You may feel the pain in your left neck or shoulder, and it may get worse when you lie down, swallow food, or take a deep breath.
You have myocarditis when the heart muscles become inflamed. In addition to chest pain, myocarditis can cause arrhythmias, shortness of breath, fatigue, and leg swelling.
When myocarditis is caused by a viral infection, you may also have a fever, body aches, joint pain, and a sore throat.
Heart valve disease
When one or more valves in your heart don’t work properly, you may experience chest pain, abdominal swelling, shortness of breath, dizziness, an irregular heartbeat, and swelling in your ankles and feet.
Aortic dissection is a rare disease that occurs when the inner layers of the aorta tear. The aorta is the large artery that carries blood from the heart to your body. When it’s damaged, you have a condition that’s just as serious as a heart attack.
The symptoms of aortic dissection also resemble a heart attack or stroke. You may have sudden severe chest or upper back pain, shortness of breath, difficulty speaking, loss of vision, and loss of consciousness.
Coronary artery disease
Coronary artery disease, the most common heart disease, develops when fatty plaque builds up in the coronary arteries. As the plaque enlarges, it blocks blood flow, depriving the heart of oxygen and causing pain. Chest pain that’s caused by blocked arteries is called stable angina.
Chest pain from angina versus a heart attack
Stable angina causes chest pain that’s triggered by walking, climbing stairs, or other activities that make your heart work harder. The chest pain of stable angina doesn’t last long. The pain goes away when you rest or take nitrate medication.
By comparison, chest pain caused by a heart attack comes on suddenly (it’s not triggered by physical exercise), the pain doesn’t improve with rest, and the symptoms intensify or get worse.
When you have a heart attack, you’re also more likely to have other symptoms such as pain in your jaw, neck, arm, or back, as well as shortness of breath, nausea, or lightheadedness.
If you have any questions about chest pain, call our Corrielus Cardiology office in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, or schedule an appointment online today.