Decoding chest pain
Posted: Tuesday, January 17, 2012 10:07 am
Chest pain can be frightening. When it happens, it’s natural to assume that something is wrong with your heart, but chest pain can signal a variety of other conditions ranging from digestive disorders to respiratory issues. Unfortunately, it can be hard to distinguish the source of chest pain and determine if you should head to the ER, wait to see if symptoms subside, or take an antacid.
The fail proof reaction if you experience chest pain? Don’t ignore it: the first order of business is to see a doctor promptly to rule out heart trouble. Chest pain is the most common symptom of a heart attack or heart disease, and involves a feeling of uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness or pain. Learn the signs and symptoms of a heart attack (see sidebar), and when in doubt, always have it checked out.
Once heart trouble has been ruled out as a possibility for your pain, several other conditions that mimic the pain of heart trouble need to be considered. These conditions typically involve the digestive, respiratory or musculoskeletal systems – and while they may not be a health emergency, most require prompt medical treatment to relieve symptoms and effectively manage the condition to minimize its effects on your overall health.
Chest pain related to a digestive disorder can include:
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Two Types of Pain:
Chest pain generally falls into two categories: acute and chronic. Acute chest pain comes on suddenly and is characterized by sharp, stabbing or severe pain, while chronic chest pain develops over time, lasts longer (weeks to months), and takes longer to treat.
Acute chest pain is most often associated with a medical emergency or a condition that requires prompt medical treatment: a heart attack, hernia, rib fracture or lung condition. If you are experiencing shortness of breath, difficulty swallowing or your symptoms are not relieved by rest, call 911 or proceed to the nearest ER.
Chronic chest pain is associated with conditions such as asthma, an ulcer, GERD, a hernia, gallbladder disease, or a lung condition ranging from bronchitis to emphysema to tuberculosis. Chest pain related to these conditions can be accompanied by many other symptoms such as fever and chills; cough; wheezing; a burning sensation in the chest; or increased pain after eating, exercise or emotional stress.
A non-emergency, chronic heart condition known as stable angina involves recurring chest pain caused by an insufficient supply of oxygen to the heart muscle. This pain typically increases with intense activity, emotional stress, or extreme hot or cold temperatures; then goes away. However, angina can also be a symptom of coronary artery disease.
About the Author: Jack Baltz is a certified nurse practitioner. He has a master’s degree in nursing from Vanderbilt University and his nurse practitioner from the University of Tennessee in Memphis. Jack specializes in acute care of illnesses and injuries. He also manages the care of patients with chronic illnesses.