Nearly 800,000 people have a heart attack in the United States each year, and in most cases, it’s preventable. A heart attack occurs when blood flow to your heart is interrupted, starving the heart muscle of oxygen.
While chest discomfort is a classic heart attack symptom, having chest pain doesn’t always mean you’re having a heart attack. Knowing when your chest pain requires immediate attention can save your life. Learn more about the warning signs and how to know when chest pain is serious.
When chest pain isn’t a heart attack
Having chest pain doesn’t always mean you’re having a heart attack. In fact, a number of conditions can cause chest discomfort, some of which are less serious.
Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) can cause chest discomfort. If you’ve just eaten a big meal and feel a burning sensation in your chest, it may be acid reflux-related heartburn and not a heart attack. The chest pain from heartburn usually occurs after eating and is typically worse when you lie down. A sour taste in your mouth often accompanies this type of chest pain.
Problems with your lungs can cause chest pain. Conditions like asthma, pulmonary hypertension, and pleuritis cause irritation to your lungs and chest. This type of chest pain may feel like either a sharp stabbing pain or a dull ache and is typically accompanied by coughing or wheezing. If you’ve been diagnosed with a lung condition, your chest pain may be related to that condition.
Signs of less serious chest pain
If you experience the following types of pain, chances are you aren’t having a heart attack.
- Sudden pain that lasts only a few seconds
- Pain when breathing
- Pain felt only when pressing on your chest
- Pain brought on by coughing
- Pain confined to one small area
Heart attack warning signs
While some heart attacks cause sudden, intense pain, others present as a feeling of discomfort that comes on more gradually. Keep in mind that the signs and symptoms of a heart attack vary from person to person.
If you experience pain in your chest that is accompanied by any of the following symptoms, seek immediate medical attention.
- Cold sweat or chills
- Lightheadedness or dizziness
- Numbness in your arms
- Sudden weakness in one or both arms
- Shortness of breath or trouble breathing
- Pain that radiates to your shoulders and arms
Know your risk
Certain factors increase your risk for heart disease and a subsequent heart attack. While some of them are beyond your control, you can take steps to control others. These factors contribute to heart disease risk:
- Poor nutrition
- Family history
- Being sedentary
- Smoking tobacco
- High blood pressure
- Elevated cholesterol
- Being overweight or obese
- Excess alcohol consumption
When to see a doctor
Chest pain isn’t something you can diagnose at home. If you experience chest pain, it’s important to see a cardiologist to get a proper diagnosis.
Imaging scans allow your doctor to view the size and shape of your heart and check for problems. Blood tests that check for levels of certain enzymes and protein found in the heart can reveal whether you have damage to your heart muscle. Your doctor may order additional tests to check other things, such as an electrocardiogram to measure your heart’s electrical activity.
Chest pain could indicate a serious heart condition. At California Heart and Vein Specialists, our team evaluates and diagnoses your chest pain to provide the highest level of care. To schedule an appointment, call our office in Huntington Beach, California, or use our convenient online booking form.