According to the National Institutes of Health, chest pain is the second largest cause of emergency room visits in the United States. Roughly 20% to 40% of the global population is affected by chest pain of some kind every year. While chest pain could be a symptom of a serious health issue, there are many instances when it is not. Here are a few of the most common causes of chest pain and how to know if you should schedule a doctor’s appointment or visit the emergency room as soon as possible.
Muscle Strain or Inflammation
Excessive strain from heavy lifting, strenuous exercise, coughing or other activity can cause an inflammation of the muscles and tendons around the ribs, resulting in chest pain. Costochondritis, an inflammation of the cartilage around the ribs, could also result in chest pain. If the pain becomes worse with activity, then it may be a symptom of a muscle strain or other inflammation. In these instances, doctors usually recommend rest and over-the-counter anti-inflammatories such as ibuprofen.
Acid Reflux and Esophageal Issues
Gastroesophageal Reflux Disorder (GERD), also called acid reflux, occurs when the contents of the stomach move back up into the esophagus. Acid reflux routinely causes a burning feeling in the chest and a sour taste in the mouth. For some sufferers, the presence of acid, spasms in the esophagus, or changes in pressure can cause chest pain. In less intense cases, we usually recommend over-the-counter antacids and plenty of water to help lower the amount of acid in the esophagus. If the pain gets worse or does not subside, it would be wise to see your doctor.
Chronic asthma sufferers can experience chest pain due to inflammation in the airways. Doctor-prescribed medications can be used to treat a flare-ups. Chest pain due to pleurisy, pneumonia or tuberculosis are often associated with fever, chills and coughing blood. These symptoms are signs of a more serious problem and require prompt physician evaluation.
There are many heart issues that range from non-emergent to life-threatening. Most cardiac issues are first diagnosed when being evaluated by a medical provider for chest pain. Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, a thickening of the heart wall, which can impede how the blood is pumped to the body. This condition can cause chest pain, shortness of breath, dizziness and fainting.
Pericarditis is inflammation of the sac around the heart and may cause chest pain, which is made worse with deep breaths or lying down. Treatment includes anti-inflammatories, rest and follow up.
Chest pain, shortness of breath, sweating, dizziness and weakness are some of the symptoms associated with a heart attack. In addition, pain in the arms, shoulders, jaw, neck, or back, can also be associated with a serious cardiac issue.
Fever, fatigue, racing heart and trouble breathing could also be signs of myocarditis. This condition is usually associated with a viral infection. If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, you should visit an emergency room immediately.
When to See a Doctor or Go to the Emergency Room
If you are experiencing chest pain or shortness of breath, it is important to see a doctor as soon as possible.