It’s not easy to tell whether chest pain is harmless or life-threatening. Each year, close to 800,000 American adults suffer a heart attack — and in many cases, it’s preventable. If you’ve ever felt a sudden pain in your chest and were convinced it was a heart attack only to learn that it was a strained muscle, you may wonder just how to tell when chest pain is serious.
The truth is, while chest pain is often harmless, you should never ignore it. Here’s why it’s vital to visit a doctor if you experience any type of chest pain.
Take charge of your heart health
Despite medical advancements, heart disease remains the No. 1 cause of death among Americans. You’re more likely to suffer a heart attack if you have risk factors like high cholesterol, smoking, obesity, and a family history of heart disease.
At CA Heart and Vein Specialists, our highly qualified team works with you to address a wide variety of cardiovascular issues to help keep your heart and circulatory system as healthy as possible. Learn what different types of chest pain could mean and why it’s important to see a doctor if you ever experience chest discomfort.
Less serious chest pain
While it’s true that something as simple as having acid reflux after eating a spicy meal can cause chest pain, it’s still important to have a doctor check things out. Acid reflux is a symptom of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) and often presents as a burning or squeezing sensation.
Because severe heartburn and chest pain from a heart attack can feel similar, it’s wise to see a doctor to rule out a heart attack or serious circulatory issue. Chest pain caused by heartburn often occurs after eating, presents with a sour taste in your mouth, and is typically worse when lying down. Even if you suspect your chest pain is related to GERD, your doctor can run the appropriate tests to rule out something more serious.
Angina is the term for chest pain caused by reduced blood flow to the heart. This type of chest pain is difficult to distinguish from a heart attack. Angina can cause your chest to feel tight and heavy, and you even may feel a crushing sensation. Stress, heavy lifting, and strenuous physical activity can trigger angina.
Because it is often a sign of coronary artery disease, it’s always a good idea to visit a specialist if you suspect that you have angina. The providers at CA Heart and Vein Specialists can diagnose your condition and help you make key changes that can lower your risk of developing a heart attack.
Symptoms of less serious chest pain
Chances are you aren’t having a heart attack if you experience:
- Sudden pain that lasts a few seconds before going away
- Pain when inhaling and exhaling
- Pain that occurs only when pressing on your chest
- Pain when coughing
Warning signs of a heart attack
While most aches and pains are no cause for concern, some symptoms require immediate medical attention. Keep in mind that heart attack symptoms vary from person to person. Some heart attacks come on suddenly, while others cause more gradual symptoms. Call a doctor immediately if you experience chest pain accompanied by:
- Trouble breathing
- Numbness in one or both arms
- Dizziness or fainting
- Chills or cold sweats
- Pain that radiates down one or both arms
- Severe headache
- Changes in vision
- Extreme fatigue
Control risk factors to protect your heart
Keeping your risk factors in check is a powerful way to reduce your chances of heart disease, heart attack, and stroke. If you have diabetes, it’s crucial to keep your blood sugar within a target range. Controlling your blood pressure if you have hypertension is also key to protecting your circulatory system.
When uncontrolled, both conditions can cause damage to vessels that supply blood to your heart, brain, and other areas. Taking steps to bring your cholesterol within a safe range also helps keep heart disease at bay. Additionally, sticking to a nutritious, well-rounded diet plays a role in protecting heart health.
When it comes to your heart, it’s always wise to err on the side of caution. To learn more about cardiovascular care at CA Heart and Vein Specialists, call our office in Huntington Beach, California, or request an appointment online.