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How to Know If Chest Pain Means Heart Attack

by Dr. Asma Khan
Chest pain can be scary. While the pain may be caused by heart problems–and if so, head immediately to the emergency room–there are many other potential causes. Problems stemming from muscles, nerves, the esophagus, lungs, or ribs may be the origin of less severe chest pain or discomfort.

Potential Causes

Most often, chest pain manifests as either a sharp, stabbing or dull, aching sensation. If you feel a squeezing or tightening in your chest, the symptoms may be stemming from a heart problem, so call 911 immediately.
The most common potential causes of chest pain include:

  • Heart-related issues, including heart attack
  • Digestive causes like swallowing disorders or heartburn
  • Injured ribs or sore muscles
  • Lung-related issues
  • Shingles
  • Panic attack

Testing Procedures

Your doctor will be able to help you determine what is causing your chest pain. If the pain is sudden or severe, head to the ER where they can run the following tests:

  • Electrocardiogram (ECG): to test your heart’s electrical activity through electrodes attached to your skin
  • Blood tests: to reveal the presence of enzymes that have been released from damaged heart muscle
  • Chest X-Ray: to assess the size, shape, and condition of your heart, lungs, and major blood vessels

Depending on the results of these tests, your doctor may require follow-up testing. If the cause of your pain is still not determined, a follow-up with a cardiologist will likely be necessary.

Chest Pain: What You Need to Know

While your chest pain may be coming from a minor issue, it also could be caused by a potentially fatal heart problem. Always take chest pain seriously and seek medical help as soon as possible. It is always important to let a medical professional diagnose the source of your symptoms.
If you are experiencing mild or persistent chest pain, visit HRHCare Urgent Care or your local doctor to get to the bottom of the issue. If the pain is sudden or severe, immediately call 911.
Asma Khan, MD, is the Clinical Director at HRHCare Urgent Care, 84 N Highland Ave between High Street and Sickles Ave in Nyack. Along with offices in Haverstraw and Spring Valley, the facility is part of the 28 health center HRHCare network in the Hudson Valley and Long Island providing comprehensive primary care.
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