Chest pain is one of the most common reasons that people visit the emergency room. Chest pain varies depending on the person. It also varies in:

  • quality
  • intensity
  • duration
  • location

It may feel like a sharp, stabbing pain or a dull ache. It may be a sign of a serious heart-related problem. Many common causes that aren’t life-threatening may also have caused it.

When you have chest pain, your first thought may be that you’re having a heart attack. While chest pain is a well-established sign of a heart attack, it can also be caused by many other less serious conditions.

About 13 percent of all emergency room (ER) visits for chest pain result in a diagnosis of a serious heart-related problem, according to the National Center for Health Studies (NCHS).

Heart-related causes of chest pain

The following are heart-related causes of chest pain:

  • heart attack, which is a blockage of blood flow to the heart
  • angina, which is chest pain caused by blockages in the blood vessels leading to your heart
  • pericarditis, which is an inflammation of the sac around the heart
  • myocarditis, which is an inflammation of the heart muscle
  • cardiomyopathy, which is a disease of the heart muscle
  • aortic dissection, which is a rare condition involving a tear of the aorta, the large vessel that comes off of the heart

Gastrointestinal causes of chest pain

The following are gastrointestinal causes of chest pain:

Lung-related causes of chest pain

The following are lung-related causes of chest pain:

Bronchospasms commonly occur in people who have asthma and related disorders such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

Muscle- or bone-related causes of chest pain

The following are causes of chest pain related to the muscles or bones:

Other causes

Shingles can cause chest pain. You may develop pain along your back or chest before the shingles rash becomes apparent. Panic attacks can also cause chest pain.

You may have other symptoms that occur with chest pain. Identifying symptoms you may be having can help your doctor make a diagnosis. These include:

Heart-related symptoms

While pain is the most common symptom of a heart problem, some people experience other symptoms, with or without chest pain. Women, in particular, have reported unusual symptoms that later have been identified as being the result of a heart condition:

Other symptoms

Symptoms that may indicate your chest pain isn’t heart-related include:

Seek emergency treatment immediately if you think you may be having a heart attack and especially if your chest pain is new, unexplained, or lasts more than a few moments.

Your doctor will ask you some questions, and your answers can help them diagnose the cause of your chest pain. Be prepared to discuss any related symptoms and to share information about any medications, treatments, or other medical conditions you may have.

Diagnostic tests

Your doctor may order tests to help diagnose or eliminate heart-related problems as a cause of your chest pain. These may include:

  • an electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG), which records your heart’s electrical activity
  • blood tests, which measure enzyme levels
  • a chest X-ray, which is used to examine your heart, lungs, and blood vessels
  • an echocardiogram, which uses sound waves to record moving images of the heart
  • an MRI, which is used to look for damage to the heart or aorta
  • stress tests, which are used to measure your heart function after exertion
  • an angiogram, which is used to look for blockages in specific arteries

Your doctor might treat chest pain with medication, noninvasive procedures, surgery, or a combination of these methods. Treatment depends on the cause and severity of your chest pain.

Treatments for heart-related causes of chest pain include:

Treatments for other causes of chest pain include:

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Your doctor can treat and resolve chest pain caused by many common conditions. These may include acid reflux, anxiety attacks, and asthma or related disorders.

However, chest pain can also be a symptom of a life-threatening condition. Seek immediate medical treatment if you think you may be experiencing a heart attack or another heart problem. This can save your life.

Once your doctor makes a diagnosis, they can recommend additional treatments to help you manage your condition.