How to stop chest pain

You could be having a heart attack. Call 999 immediately as you need immediate treatment in hospital.

Non-urgent advice: See a GP if:

  • you have chest pain that comes and goes
  • you have chest pain that goes away quickly but you’re still worried

It’s important to get medical advice to make sure it’s nothing serious.

Common causes of chest pain

Chest pain has many different causes. In most cases, chest pain is not caused by a heart problem.

Your symptoms might give you an idea of the cause. Don’t self-diagnose – see a GP if you’re worried.

Possible causes

Chest pain symptoms Possible cause
Starts after eating, bringing up food or bitter tasting fluids, feeling full and bloated heartburn or indigestion
Starts after chest injury or chest exercise, feels better when resting the muscle chest sprain or strain
Triggered by worries or a stressful situation, heartbeat gets faster, sweating, dizziness anxiety or panic attack
Gets worse when you breathe in and out, coughing up yellow or green mucus, high temperature chest infection or pneumonia
Tingling feeling on skin, skin rash appears that turns into blisters shingles

Chest pain and heart problems

The most common heart problems that cause chest pain include:

    – which usually causes a sudden, sharp, stabbing pain that gets worse when you breathe deeply or lie down or a heart attack – which have similar symptoms but a heart attack is life-threatening

You’re more likely to have heart problems if you’re older or know you’re at risk of coronary heart disease.

Call 911 or have someone take you to the closest emergency room right away if you have chest pain that lasts longer than five minutes and does not go away when you rest or take medication. Cardiac chest pain can be life-threatening.

Chest pain can be a sign of a heart attack. Other signs of a heart attack include:

  • Sweating.
  • Nausea or vomiting.
  • Shortness of breath.
  • Light-headedness or fainting.
  • A rapid or irregular heartbeat.
  • Pain in your back, jaw, neck, upper abdomen, arm or shoulder.

What is chest pain?

Chest pain is pain in any area of your chest. You may feel the pain in your back, lungs, ribs, muscles or center of your chest. Chest pain can be sharp or dull. You may feel tightness, achiness, or you may feel like your chest is being crushed or squeezed. Chest pain is often intermittent (lasting for seconds, minutes to hours), but it can also be chronic, which means it lasts six months or longer.

What is angina?

Angina is a type of chest pain that happens when your heart is not getting enough oxygen-rich blood. Angina is a symptom of a heart problem.

Angina can feel like pressure or squeezing in your chest. It can also cause discomfort in your shoulders, arms, neck, jaw and back. Angina sometimes feels like indigestion.

Possible Causes

What causes chest pain?

Although most people think of chest pain as a sign of a heart problem/heart attack, it can be caused by many things. Chest pain can be a symptom of:

  • Heart and vascular problems, such as a heart attack, coronary artery disease (blockages in the blood vessels that carry blood to your heart), pericarditis (inflammation of the lining around your heart), aortic dissection (a tear in the wall of your aorta) or aortic aneurysm (a bulging section of your aorta).
  • Digestive problems such asgastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), an ulcer, gallstones, spasms in your esophagus, esophagitis, hiatal hernia or gastritis.
  • Lung problems such as a pulmonary embolism (a blood clot in an artery inside your lung), chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), pneumonia, pleurisy or pleuritis (inflammation of the membrane around your lungs) or a pneumothorax (collapsed lung).
  • Musculoskeletal problems, such as a broken rib or sprained chest muscle.
  • Cancer involving or effecting different structures in the chest.
  • Stress, anxiety or panic attacks.

Care and Treatment

What should I do if I have chest pain?

Do not ignore any type of chest pain or avoid getting treatment.

If your chest pain is new, comes on suddenly, or lasts longer than five minutes after you rest or take medication, call 911 or have someone take you to the closest emergency room.

If your chest pain goes away or comes and goes, see your healthcare provider as soon as possible to find out what is causing the pain, even if it is not severe.

What treatments are available for people with chest pain?

Treatment for chest pain depends on the cause of the pain. If your chest pain is caused by a heart attack, you will get emergency treatment as soon as you seek help. This can include medication and a procedure or surgery to restore blood flow to your heart. If your chest pain is caused by a non-cardiac condition, your healthcare provider will talk to you about treatment options.

How can I prevent chest pain?

You can reduce your risk of heart, vascular and other diseases by following a healthy lifestyle. This includes:

  • A healthy diet. Your healthcare provider or registered dietitian can help you create an eating plan that is right for you.
  • Managing health conditions you have, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes.
  • Exercising most days of the week.
  • Reaching and maintaining a healthy weight.
  • Limiting the amount of alcohol you drink.
  • Not smoking or using tobacco/nicotine products.

When to Call the Doctor

When should I call my healthcare provider about chest pain?

Call 911 or have someone take you to the closest emergency room right away if you have chest pain that lasts longer than five minutes and does not go away when you rest or take medication. Cardiac chest pain can be life-threatening.

Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 11/19/2020.

References

  • Merck Manual. Chest or Back Pain. (https://www.merckmanuals.com/home/digestive-disorders/symptoms-of-digestive-disorders/chest-or-back-pain) Accessed 10/26/2020.
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Heart Disease. (https://www.cdc.gov/heartdisease/index.htm) Accessed 10/26/2020.
  • Anxiety and Depression Association of America. How to Know When You’re Having a Panic Attack. (https://adaa.org/learn-from-us/from-the-experts/blog-posts/consumer/how-know-when-you-are-having-panic-attack) Accessed 10/26/2020.
  • National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. Angina. (https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health-topics/angina) Accessed 10/26/2020.
  • Allergy and Asthma Network. Symptoms of Allergies. (https://allergyasthmanetwork.org/allergies/symptoms-of-allergies/) Accessed 10/26/2020.
  • American Academy of Family Physicians. Chest Pain, Acute. (https://familydoctor.org/symptom/chest-pain-acute/) Accessed 10/26/2020.
  • American Heart Association. Angina (Chest Pain). (https://www.heart.org/en/health-topics/heart-attack/angina-chest-pain) Accessed 10/26/2020.
  • Merck Manual. Chest Pain. (https://www.merckmanuals.com/home/heart-and-blood-vessel-disorders/symptoms-of-heart-and-blood-vessel-disorders/chest-pain) Accessed 10/26/2020.

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Chest pain can be serious. It may be caused by temporary poor blood flow to the heart ( angina ), or by a sudden blockage in the coronary arteries resulting in a heart attack .

If you have chest pain, seek urgent medical help. Call 000 for an ambulance.

There are other possible causes of chest pain such as indigestion and muscle strain. Aside from the heart, many parts of the chest that can cause chest pain include the lungs, oesophagus (gullet), muscle, bone and skin.

Because of the complex system of nerves in the body, the cause of the chest pain may come from elsewhere in your body, such as your stomach (abdomen). This is known as ‘referred pain’.

In a heart attack, every minute counts. Urgent treatment is needed to prevent damage to the heart.

If you think you are having a heart attack, or you are in doubt about the cause of your chest pain, call 000 for an ambulance.

Chest pain – symptoms of a heart attack

Chest pain can be a warning sign of a heart attack. A heart attack happens when the blood supply to your heart becomes blocked and damages the heart muscle.

The longer a heart attack is left untreated more damage occurs. In some cases, a heart attack can be fatal. Many Australians die of heart attack, or suffer permanent damage to the heart because they don’t know the signs or wait too long to act.

  • Severe crushing pain in the centre of your chest or behind the breastbone. You may feel this as a squeezing, tightening, choking or heavy pressure feeling.
  • Pain spreading to the shoulders, arms, neck, throat, jaw or back.
  • Sweating.
  • Feeling anxious, dizzy or unwell.
  • A sick feeling in the stomach.
  • Shortness of breath.
  • Symptoms that often last 10 to 15 minutes or more.

Symptoms of a heart attack may vary from person to person, and some people have few symptoms or none at all.

Chest pain – angina

Angina is a short-lived chest pain that occurs when the heart muscle does not receive enough blood or oxygen – often when it has to work harder than usual. This can occur with exercise, stress, cold weather or after eating a large meal.

Angina pain eases with rest, or with the use of angina medicines.

Angina is usually caused by underlying coronary artery disease, where the arteries of the heart become narrow due to the buildup of plaque (fatty deposits) in the artery walls. This narrowing means that blood supply to the heart is reduced, causing chest pain (angina). Angina does not usually cause damage to the heart.

Angina and heart attack – risk factors

Angina and heart attack are usually caused by underlying coronary artery disease, which has certain risk factors – some you can change, others you can’t.

Risk factors you can change:

Risk factors you can’t change:

  • getting older – risk increases as we age
  • being a post-menopausal woman
  • family history of heart disease
  • ethnicity – Aboriginal Torres Strait Islander and certain other populations are at higher risk

It is important to remember that people without these risk factors can also experience angina or a heart attack.

Other common causes of chest pain

The symptoms of a heart attack are similar to other conditions, so your chest pain may have nothing to do with your heart.

Other common causes of chest pain include:

    or stomach acid coming up the oesophagus (reflux). This common problem can be made worse by smoking, drinking alcohol or coffee, eating fatty foods and taking some drugs. You may feel this as a burning pain in the chest. It often goes away quickly after taking antacid or milk. .
  • Chest trauma ( rib fractures ).
  • Blood clots in your lungs (pulmonary embolism).
  • Chest muscle strains – these can be caused by vigorous exercise, physically active work, playing contact sport or lifting weights at the gym.
  • Inflammation in the rib joints near the breastbone (costochondritis). (or herpes zoster) or can cause chest pain before a rash forms.

Seek urgent medical help for chest pain

With chest pain, every minute counts. The faster you get to hospital for treatment, the better.

If any activity brings on chest pain, follow these steps:

1.Stop what you are doing and rest immediately.

2.Talk – tell someone how you feel.

If you take angina medication:

  • Wait 5 minutes. If you still have symptoms – take another dose of your medicine.
  • Wait 5 minutes. If your symptoms don’t go away…

3.Call 000 and chew on 300mg aspirin (if available).

  • Ask for an ambulance.
  • Don’t hang up.
  • Wait for the operator’s instructions.

Do not take aspirin if you have an allergy to aspirin, or your doctor has told you not to take it.

Remember, if you have any doubt about your pain, call an ambulance anyway.

Do not drive yourself to hospital. Wait for the ambulance. It has specialised staff and equipment that may save your life.

Diagnosis of chest pain

Before medical treatment can begin, the cause of the pain must be found. You may a have a lot of tests done including:

    – electrical tracing of the heart activity. – to measure markers from the heart and other organs. – to look at the lungs, heart and major blood vessels of the chest.

If your healthcare professional thinks you may have angina, they may order further tests to check the state of the blood vessels that supply your heart. They may also arrange an exercise stress test (on an exercise bike or treadmill) or other tests – such as an angiogram or CT scan of your chest.

It is not always easy to diagnose the cause of chest pain. Your doctor may need to see you more than once to be sure, and further tests may be needed, or you may be referred to a cardiologist (heart doctor).

Recovering from chest pain

If your doctor has ruled out serious causes of chest pain, it is likely you will make a full recovery. General self-care suggestions include:

Chest pain refers to pain felt anywhere in the chest area from the level of your shoulders to the bottom of your ribs. It is a common symptom. There are many causes of chest pain. This leaflet only deals with the most common. It can often be difficult to diagnose the exact cause of chest pain without carrying out some tests and investigations.

Chest Pain

In this article

It is important to take chest pain seriously because it can sometimes indicate a serious underlying problem. Any new, severe, or persisting chest pain should be discussed with your doctor. This is particularly important if you are an adult and have a history of heart or lung disease. If the chest pain is particularly severe, especially if it is radiating to your arms or jaw, you feel sick, feel sweaty or become breathless, you should call 999/112/911 for an emergency ambulance. These can be symptoms of a heart attack.

Causes of chest pain

There are many possible causes of chest pain. Below is a brief overview of some of the more common causes.

Angina

Angina is a pain that comes from the heart. It is usually caused by narrowing of the coronary arteries, which supply blood to the heart muscle.

In the early stages, blood supply may be adequate when you are resting. However, when you exercise, your heart muscle needs more blood and oxygen, and if the blood cannot get past the narrowed coronary arteries, your heart responds with pain.

The chest pain caused by angina may feel like an ache, discomfort or tightness across the front of your chest.

Heart attack

During a heart attack (myocardial infarction), a coronary artery or one of its smaller branches is suddenly blocked. This cuts off the blood supply to part of the heart muscle completely.

The most common symptom of a heart attack is severe chest pain at rest. Unless the blockage is quickly removed, this part of the heart muscle is at risk of dying. To find out more about the symptoms and treatments for a heart attack, see the separate leaflet called Heart Attack (Myocardial Infarction).

Gastro-oesophageal reflux disease

This is a general term which describes a range of situations including acid reflux and oesophagitis (inflammation of the lining of the oesophagus, or gullet).

Heartburn – usually a burning in the lower chest and upper abdomen – is the main symptom of gastro-oesophageal reflux disease. Severe chest pain can develop in some cases and can be mistaken for a heart attack. To find out more about the symptoms and treatments, see the separate leaflet called Acid Reflux and Oesophagitis (Heartburn).

Costochondritis

The rib cage is a bony structure that protects the lungs. Softer, more flexible cartilage attaches the ribs to the breastbone (sternum) and the sternum to the collar bones (clavicles) at joints. In costochondritis, there is inflammation in one or more of these joints.

Costochondritis causes chest pain, felt at the front of the chest. This is typically a sharp, stabbing chest pain and is worse with movement, exertion and deep breathing.

Strained chest wall muscle

There are various muscles that run around and between the ribs to help the rib cage to move during breathing. These muscles can sometimes be strained and can lead to chest pain in that area. If a muscle is strained, there has been stretching or tearing of muscle fibres, often because the muscle has been stretched beyond its limits. For example, a strained chest wall muscle may sometimes develop after heavy lifting, stretching, sudden movement or lengthy (prolonged) coughing. The chest pain is usually worse on movement and on breathing in.

Anxiety

Anxiety is quite a common cause of chest pain. In some people, the chest pain can be so severe that it is mistaken for angina. Chest pain due to anxiety is known as Da Costa’s syndrome. Da Costa’s syndrome may be more common in people who have recently had relatives or friends diagnosed with heart problems, or in people who themselves have recently had a heart attack. Investigations show that the coronary arteries are normal with no narrowing.

What's causing your chest pain?

Chest pain is common but, understandably, it can be a source of anxiety. Most of us immediately .