Chest pain

Chest pain comes in many varieties, ranging from a sharp stab to a dull ache. Some chest pain is described as crushing or burning. In certain cases, the pain travels up the neck, into the jaw, and then radiates through to the back or down one or both arms.

Many different problems can cause chest pain. The most life-threatening ones involve the heart or lungs. Because it can be difficult to determine the exact cause of chest pain, it's best to seek immediate medical help.

Symptoms Causes

A wide range of health problems can cause chest pain. In many cases, the underlying cause has nothing to do with your heart — though there's no easy way to tell without seeing a doctor.

Heart-related chest pain

Although chest pain is commonly attributed to heart disease, many people with heart disease say they experience a vague discomfort for which "pain" doesn't seem to be an adequate description. In general, chest discomfort related to a heart attack or another heart problem may be described by or associated with one or more of the following:

  • Pressure, fullness or tightness in your chest
  • Crushing or searing pain that radiates to your back, neck, jaw, shoulders and arms — particularly your left arm
  • Pain that lasts more than a few minutes, gets worse with activity, goes away and comes back or varies in intensity
  • Shortness of breath
  • Cold sweats
  • Dizziness or weakness
  • Nausea or vomiting

Other types of chest pain

It can be difficult to distinguish chest pain due to a heart problem from other types of chest pain. However, chest pain that is less likely due to a heart problem is more often associated with:

  • A sour taste or a sensation of food re-entering your mouth
  • Trouble swallowing
  • Pain that gets better or worse when you change your body position
  • Pain that intensifies when you breathe deeply or cough
  • Tenderness when you push on your chest

The classic symptoms of heartburn — a painful, burning sensation behind your breastbone — can be caused by problems with your heart or your stomach.

When to see a doctor

If you have new or unexplained chest pain or suspect you're having a heart attack, call for emergency medical help immediately.

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