chest pain symptoms
Every year, around 7.6 million Americans seek treatment for chest pain in emergency departments. A common condition, chest pain of any kind can still be frightening. Symptoms can range from dull and achy to sharp and severe. While many cases of chest pain may be harmless, other instances may indicate a serious condition that requires urgent medical attention.

Understanding the common signs of chest pain and knowing when to go to the ER can help save your life in the event of an emergency. Chest pain is a common symptom of heart attack and other life-threatening conditions, so it should never be taken lightly. When in doubt, call 911 or visit your nearest emergency department.

Possible Causes of Chest Pain

Chest pain can occur anywhere from your neck to your upper abdomen. As there are many possible causes, chest pain can present differently for everyone. It can feel:

  • Sharp
  • Dull
  • Burning
  • Aching
  • Stabbing
  • Tight, squeezing, or crushing

Chest pain can be caused by a wide range of conditions. Although your first thought may be that your pain is heart-related, chest discomfort can also be due to lung, gastrointestinal, musculoskeletal, and other issues. Below are some of the most common causes of chest pain.

Heart-Related Causes

  • Heart attack
  • Angina
  • Myocarditis
  • Pericarditis
  • Cardiomyopathy
  • Aortic dissection

Gastrointestinal Causes

  • Acid reflux
  • Disorders of the esophagus
  • Gallstones
  • Inflammation of the gallbladder or pancreas

Lung-Related Causes

Musculoskeletal Causes

Other causes of chest pain can also include psychological conditions such as anxiety and panic attacks. If you commonly experience symptoms of chest pain or your chest pain is severe, medical intervention may be warranted.

When is chest pain serious enough to go to the ER?

Chest pain is common, but it shouldn’t be ignored. Although most cases of chest pain are harmless, you should go to the emergency room immediately if your chest pain is intense, prolonged, or is accompanied by other symptoms.

Here are some symptoms that may indicate you need immediate medical attention:

  • Difficulty breathing/shortness of breath
  • Confusion/disorientation
  • Excessive sweating
  • Nausea or dizziness
  • Pain that travels into the back
  • Pain in the jaw, left arm or back
  • Feelings of pressure, squeezing, tightness
  • Low blood pressure or heart rate
  • Rapid heartbeat and/or breathing

If your chest pain lasts more than a few minutes or becomes more severe, don’t wait. Call 911 immediately. Chest pain accompanied by the symptoms above may indicate a heart attack or other serious conditions, and it’s best not to delay treatment. Ambulances have a highly trained team and special equipment to transport you quickly and safely to the nearest emergency department.

What Happens When You Go to the ER for Chest Pain

Going to the emergency room can be critical if your condition is serious. If you or someone you know needs life-saving treatment, it’s helpful to know what symptoms to look for and what to expect in the emergency room.

If you are unsure about your chest pain, it is always best to be evaluated. Emergency departments provide 24/7 care and highly trained staff that deliver safe transportation and urgent treatment.

Calling 911 for Chest Pain

A visit to the ER for chest pain can be life-saving. When your chest pain persists, is severe, or is accompanied by shortness of breath, nausea, radiating pain, and changes in heart rate and blood pressure, call 911 immediately.

When transported by an ambulance, paramedics can begin preliminary testing for diagnosis of heart attacks and other conditions. Electrocardiograms (ECG) are often given to check the heart’s rhythm and detect a heart attack. A preliminary diagnosis can be sent to the emergency room to speed up care. Paramedics can also provide oxygen and other life-saving support.

Questions You May Be Asked in the ER about your Chest Pain symptoms

Upon arriving at the emergency room, you’ll meet with a triage nurse who will ask a series of questions to determine the severity of your chest pain. Patients whose conditions are more severe will see the doctor urgently. Be prepared to answer questions about your medications, medical conditions, and family health history. To help determine the cause of your chest pain, your doctor will ask questions about your symptoms.

These types of questions may include:

  • When did your symptoms start?
  • Is the pain getting worse?
  • Does your pain radiate to other parts of the body?
  • How would you describe your pain?
  • Do you have other signs and symptoms such as dizziness, shortness of breath, lightheadedness, or vomiting?

Tests and Exams for Chest Pain Symptoms

After learning about your symptoms of chest pain, your doctor will next perform a physical exam. To diagnose or eliminate heart-related problems, your doctor may also order a number of diagnostic tests. These may include:

  • Electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG)
  • Blood work
  • Chest X-ray
  • Echocardiogram
  • Chest MRI
  • Stress tests
  • Angiogram

Treatment and Emergency Cardiology Procedures

When the cause of your chest pain has been diagnosed, your doctor will recommend treatment. Treatments may include medication, noninvasive procedures, or in advanced cases, surgery. A combination of treatments may even be required to address your symptoms.

Common medications prescribed may include:

  • Aspirin
  • Artery relaxers
  • Thrombolytic drugs
  • Blood thinners
  • Antacids
  • Anti-anxiety medications

In the event of a heart attack or other life-threatening conditions, surgery may be required. Common surgical procedures include:

  • Angioplasty
  • Stent placement
  • Surgical repair of the arteries
  • Bypass surgery
  • Emergency dissection repair
  • Lung reinflation

Emergency departments provide stabilizing treatments in the event of a crisis. However, they do not offer long-term solutions or treatment. It is always important to follow up with your primary care physician after a trip to the emergency room to address the source of your chest pain and prevent future events.

Treatment for Chest Pain After the ER

If your chest pain is due to a heart attack or another life-threatening condition, you will be admitted to the hospital.

In the first 24 hours after being admitted to the hospital, you may undergo further testing and monitoring as doctors closely watch over you. If you’ve had a heart attack, you will likely stay in the hospital for 2-4 days.

Once your condition is stable, and doctors determine that you are ready to go home, you will be discharged with instructions for home care. These may include medication directions and orders for follow-up care with a specialist.

Chest pain is often the result of an underlying condition. Upon returning home, you should always follow up with your primary care physician for further evaluation and care.

Emergency Care Close to Home

Treatment for life-threatening conditions should not be delayed. When it comes to chest pain, every second counts. Open 24 hours, seven days a week, Memorial Hospital of Gardena provides world-class patient care conveniently located close to home.

Memorial Hospital of Gardena is an accredited Geriatric Emergency Department and is highly trained for fast and efficient care of cardiac conditions, making us your hospital of choice for emergencies.

Learn more about our cardiology services at Memorial Hospital of Gardena: (310) 532-4200