Chest pain is one of the major reasons people visit the doctor or go to the emergency room. In the United States, it accounts for more than 8 million visits every year. On a global scale, chest pain affects up to 40 percent of the general population.
Potential Causes of Chest Pain
Outlined below are some of the common causes of chest pain, the accompanying symptoms, and when to seek medical attention.
a.) Cardiovascular System
- Myocardial infarction (heart attack) – This is a potentially life-threatening condition that occurs when blood flow to the heart gets blocked, resulting in the death of the heart muscle.
Go to the nearest emergency room or call 911 if your chest pain is sharp, severe, and accompanied by most or all of the following symptoms, as these could signify a heart attack:
- Digestive discomforts (e.g., indigestion, heartburn, or abdominal pain)
- Dizziness or lightheadedness and/or fainting
- Extreme fatigue
- Pain that radiates to the shoulder, arm, neck, and/or jaw
- Pressure, tightness, or squeezing sensation in the center of your chest
- Shortness of breath
Your care team will take all appropriate measures to quickly restore blood flow to your heart in order to prevent damage. The heart muscle is at risk of deteriorating further or dying each minute it is deprived of blood supply.
- Coronary artery disease (CAD)- This occurs when the coronary arteries, which are the major blood vessels that supply blood, oxygen, and nutrients to your heart, become damaged. The damage causes fatty deposits (plaque), which are made up of cholesterol and other cellular waste products, to accumulate in the arteries, thereby narrowing them and causing a blockage in them.
Symptoms of CAD include shortness of breath and angina, a type of chest pain that occurs when your heart muscle doesn’t get sufficient blood supply. The pain can spread to your arm, shoulder, jaw, or back.
If you notice these symptoms and you have risk factors for CAD, such as hypertension, family history of heart disease, and/or diabetes, talk to your PCP. Your doctor will order the necessary tests to confirm a diagnosis and coordinate your care with a cardiologist to prevent complications, such as a heart attack.
- Pericarditis – This condition is characterized by the inflammation of the thin sac surrounding the heart known as the pericardium.
Pericarditis usually causes sharp, steady chest pain, but in some people, it can also manifest as achy or dull chest pain. It can radiate to the shoulder and neck and can be accompanied by low-grade fever, fatigue, and shortness of breath.
Many of the symptoms of pericarditis overlap those of other cardiovascular and lung conditions, so if you experience them, consult your PCP for proper diagnosis and treatment. Your doctor will likely refer you to a cardiologist for comprehensive care.
b.) Respiratory System
- Asthma– This is a chronic condition in which the tubes that carry air to and from your lungs (bronchial tubes) get inflamed and produce excess mucus. The inflammation affects your airways, causing them to constrict and swell, rendering you unable to breathe properly.
Chest pain and/or tightness accompanied by shortness of breath, a whistling sound when you breathe (wheezing), and coughing (especially at night or in the morning) are the common symptoms of asthma. However, these symptoms can also be symptoms of myocardial infarction (heart attack) so should not be ignored. It’s important to not ‘self-diagnose’, and to always seek medical care.
Asthma needs long-term management. You need to work closely with your PCP, who can help you create an asthma action plan and employ all necessary strategies to prevent flare-ups. Your doctor can also guide you on what to do when your symptoms worsen—and when you need emergency care.
Signs and symptoms of an asthma emergency include rapid worsening of symptoms (those mentioned above), shortness of breath even doing minimal physical activity, and no improvement in your symptoms even with quick-relief medications.
In some instances, your primary care provider may refer you to a pulmonologist or allergist for additional management of your asthma.
- Pneumonia – This is an infection of the air sacs (alveoli) in one or both lungs caused by pathogens: bacteria, fungi, or viruses. The infection causes the air sacs to get inflamed and fill up with fluid or purulent material (pus).
Common signs and symptoms of pneumonia include chest pain when you cough or breathe, fever, fatigue, cough (usually with phlegm), and shortness of breath.
These symptoms warrant a visit to your PCP. Your doctor will carry out a physical exam along with a number of tests (e.g., sputum test, blood test, and chest X-ray) to determine the type of pneumonia you have and the appropriate intervention based on your age and overall health. Although viral pneumonia usually goes away on its own, it can lead to secondary infection (bacterial pneumonia). In such case, your doctor will likely prescribe antibiotics.
Your doctor may recommend hospitalization if you need breathing assistance or you have other health problems.
c.) Gastrointestinal System
- Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)- This occurs when the contents of the stomach persistently go back up into the esophagus.
Aside from chest pain, common symptoms of GERD include difficulty swallowing, burning sensation in your chest (heartburn), regurgitation of acid or food, and feeling as though there’s a lump in your throat.
Consult your primary care physician if you’re frequently experiencing these symptoms. Your PCP will carry out a comprehensive evaluation to confirm a diagnosis and may give you a referral to a gastroenterologist for specialized care.
Chest Pain Evaluation and Treatment in Sarasota and Bradenton, FL
For comprehensive chest pain evaluation and treatment, visit us at Intercoastal Medical Group. Our primary care physicians work in tandem with our specialists (e.g., cardiologists, pulmonologists, gastroenterologists, etc.) to consistently deliver unmatched treatment outcomes for a gamut of health issues, including those that cause chest pain.
If you need to see one of our specialists, get a referral from your PCP. However, if you don’t have one yet, schedule an appointment with one of our PCPs by calling us at our office near you or simply fill out this appointment request form.
Our internists accommodate patients at these locations: Lakewood Ranch I, Lakewood Ranch II, Hyde Park, Cattleridge Medical Building, Palmer Ranch I, and Palmer Ranch II. Our family medicine physicians accommodate patients at these offices: Lakewood Ranch I, Lakewood Ranch II, Cattleridge Medical Building, Beneva Family Practice, Beneva Professional Center, Palmer Ranch I, and Palmer Ranch II.