When a person experiences chest pain, the first thing that usually pops into his mind is that he is having a heart attack. In truth, a pain manifested in the chest region could arise from a problem with organs and tissues other than the heart, such as the lungs, oesophagus, muscles, ribs, nerves and tendons. Here are three common heart-related issues that can lead to chest pain:
1. Heart attack / Angina
The classic image of chest pain is an older gentleman clutching his chest due to a heart attack, which occurs when blood flow through the heart is severely reduced or blocked. This can lead to the heart muscle cells dying. The crushing pain usually happens in the centre or left side of the chest, and is often accompanied by weakness, sweating, nausea and shortness of breath. Resting does not help. Angina is a less severe form of heart attack, in that the reduction of blood flow to the heart is not as drastic. During either a heart or angina attack, the crushing pressure in your chest can spread to the shoulders, arms, back or jaw.
Pericarditis is an inflammation or swelling of the sac covering the heart. When this condition strikes, it can cause pain in the centre of the chest similar to that caused by angina. In pericarditis, the pain is usually sharp and steady along the upper neck and shoulder muscle. Some patients have described their symptoms worsening when they breathe, swallow food or lie on their back.
3. Aorta wall tear
The aorta is the main artery of the heart that carries blood to the rest of your body. When the wall of the aorta tears, a situation referred to as aortic dissection, a severe and sudden pain in the upper back and chest can be expected.
What is a chest pain like?
A discomfort occurring anywhere between the upper abdomen and neck is commonly referred to as chest pain, although terms such as ‘chest pressure’ and ‘chest tightness’ are also used. The type of pain can vary. Popular words used to describe the sensation include ‘dull’, ‘burning’, ‘spiky’, ‘stabbing’, ‘crushing’ and ‘squeezing’.
What to do if you experience chest pain?
It is recommended that you seek medical attention as soon as possible if the chest pain comes on suddenly, or if it persists even after you have taken anti-inflammatory or pain-relieving medications.