How Do I Know If My Chest Pain Is Serious?

Reviewed on 8/16/2021

Signs that chest pain may be serious include severe chest pain or pressure; a crushing, squeezing feeling in the chest; chest pain lasts more than a few minutes; pain moving into the neck, jaw, left shoulder, or arm; worsening chest pain; chest pain that increases in intensity or frequency; unremitting chest pain; or being accompanied by breathlessness, lightheadedness or fainting, nausea, vomiting, and/or profuse sweating.
Signs that chest pain may be serious include severe chest pain or pressure; a crushing, squeezing feeling in the chest; chest pain lasts more than a few minutes; pain moving into the neck, jaw, left shoulder, or arm; worsening chest pain; chest pain that increases in intensity or frequency; unremitting chest pain; or being accompanied by breathlessness, lightheadedness or fainting, nausea, vomiting, and/or profuse sweating.

Chest pain can occur in any part of the chest, including the heart, lungs, muscles, esophagus, bone, skin, connective tissues, blood vessels, and nerves. Sometimes, chest pain may start in another part of the body such as the stomach or other abdominal organs and radiate to the chest.

If you have chest pain, see a doctor right away for a prompt diagnosis of the underlying cause and treatment if needed. All types of chest pain should be evaluated by a doctor because some causes of chest pain are serious and life-threatening. 

Signs that chest pain may be serious include: 

  • Severe chest pain or pressure
  • A crushing, squeezing feeling in the chest 
  • Chest pain lasts more than a few minutes
  • Pain moves into the neck, jaw, left shoulder, or arm
  • Worsening chest pain
  • Chest pain that increases in intensity or frequency 
  • Unremitting chest pain
  • It is accompanied by breathlessness, lightheadedness or fainting, nausea, vomiting, and/or profuse sweating

If you experience any of the above signs or symptoms, call 911 and get to a hospital’s emergency department immediately. Do not drive yourself. 

What Are Symptoms of Chest Pain?

Symptoms that accompany chest pain may vary depending on the cause. 

Symptoms of a heart attack include:

  • Chest pain (angina
    • May feel like squeezing or fullness
    • Lasts for more than a few minutes
    • May go away and come back
  • Mild chest pressure or discomfort
  • Cold sweats/clammy skin
  • Pain, tingling, or discomfort in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw, or stomach
  • Racing or irregular heartbeat
  • Belching
  • Heartburn
  • Shortness of breath
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting 
  • Dizziness
  • Lightheadedness 
  • Extreme fatigue

Symptoms of angina include pain or discomfort that: 

  • Often occurs during physical exertion
  • Usually lasts a short time (5 minutes or less)
  • Is relieved by rest or medicine
  • Sometimes feels like gas or indigestion
  • Pain can spread to the arms, back, or other areas

Symptoms of aortic dissection include:

  • Abrupt onset of severe pain in the chest, back, or abdomen
  • Shortness of breath
  • Pain in the arms or legs
  • Weakness
  • Fainting
  • Heart attack
  • Stroke

Symptoms of pulmonary embolism include:

  • Chest pain 
  • Shortness of breath
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Panting
  • Sharp, knife-like chest pain on inhalation or when straining
  • Cough (may also cough up blood)
  • Fast heartbeat

Symptoms of pneumothorax include:

  • Sharp, stabbing chest pain that worsens when inhaling
  • Shortness of breath
  • Bluish skin 
  • Fatigue
  • Rapid breathing and heartbeat
  • Dry, hacking cough

Symptoms of perforated viscus include:

Symptoms of cocaine-induced chest pain include:

Symptoms of pericarditis include:

  • Sharp, stabbing chest pain that usually comes on quickly
  • Fever 
  • Weakness
  • Trouble breathing
  • Shortness of breath
  • Coughing
  • Palpitations
  • Tiredness
  • Coughing

Symptoms of mitral valve prolapse include:

  • Does not cause symptoms in many people
  • Palpitations
  • Chest discomfort
  • Fatigue

Symptoms of pneumonia include:

  • Cough, which may produce phlegm or mucus that may be greenish, yellow, or bloody
  • Difficulty breathing/shortness of breath
  • Sharp pain on inhalation or when coughing
  • Fever 
  • Chills and shaking 
  • Sweating
  • Fast heartbeat
  • Loss of appetite
  • Lack of energy
  • Fatigue
  • Nausea and vomiting, especially in small children
  • Confusion, especially in older people

Symptoms of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) include:

Symptoms of esophagitis include:

  • Chest pain
  • Difficulty swallowing 
  • Acid reflux
  • Heartburn
  • Feeling something is stuck in the throat
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting

Symptoms of esophageal spasm include:

  • Chest pain that may spread to the arms, back, neck, or jaw
  • May feel like a heart attack
  • Difficulty or inability to swallow food or liquid
  • Pain with swallowing
  • Feeling that food is caught in the center of the chest
  • Heartburn

Symptoms of costochondritis include:

  • Sharp chest pain and tenderness
  • Pain may get worse with:
    • Certain postures, such as lying down
    • Pressure on the chest, such as when wearing a seatbelt or hugging someone
    • Deep breathing, coughing, and sneezing
    • Physical activity

Symptoms of shingles include:

  • Unusual sensations such as itching, burning, or tingling feelings in an area of skin on one side of the body
  • Fever
  • Feeling unwell (malaise)
  • Headache
  • A rash of blisters on one side of the body in a band-like pattern
  • Pain

QUESTION

In the U.S., 1 in every 4 deaths is caused by heart disease. See Answer

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Reviewed on 8/16/2021
References
https://www.uchicagomedicine.org/forefront/heart-and-vascular-articles/what-causes-chest-pain-and-when-to-consult-a-doctor

https://www.heart.org/

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https://www.lung.org/lung-health-diseases/lung-disease-lookup/pneumothorax

https://www.saem.org/about-saem/academies-interest-groups-affiliates2/cdem/for-students/online-education/m4-curriculum/group-m4-gastrointestinal/perforated-viscus

https://www.uptodate.com/contents/clinical-manifestations-diagnosis-and-management-of-the-cardiovascular-complications-of-cocaine-abuse#H4

https://www.lung.org/lung-health-diseases/lung-disease-lookup/pneumonia?referrer=https://www.google.com/

https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/digestive-diseases/acid-reflux-ger-gerd-adults

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https://lluh.org/conditions/esophageal-spasms

https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/costochondritis/

https://www.cdc.gov/shingles/index.html