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Chest Pain / Warning Signs

Chest pain has many different causes – only the most common are listed below. 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 your GP if you're worried.

Chest Pain / Warning Signs
Chest Pain / Warning Signs

Chest pain can be caused by anything from muscle pain to a heart attack and should never be ignored. Call for an ambulance immediately if you develop sudden severe chest pain.

This is particularly important if the chest pain:

  • feels heavy, pressing or tight

  • lasts longer than 15 minutes

  • spreads to other parts of your body – such as your arms, back or jaw

  • is alongside other symptoms – such as breathlessness, nausea, sweating, or coughing up blood.

Chest pain isn't always caused by a problem with your heart, but it can sometimes be a symptom of:

  • angina – where the blood supply to the muscles of the heart is restricted

  • a heart attack – where the blood supply to part of the heart is suddenly blocked

Symptoms of a heart attack tend to last more than 15 minutes, occur at rest, and include sweating and vomiting.

Most chest pain is not heart-related and isn't a sign of a life-threatening problem.

Common Causes

Gastro-oesophageal reflux disease (GORD) – a common condition where acid from the stomach comes up into the oesophagus (gullet), causing heartburn and an unpleasant taste

A strained muscle in your chest wall – which can be surprisingly painful, but with rest the pain should ease and the muscle will heal in time

An anxiety or panic attack – which tends to last up to 20 minutes and may also cause symptoms such as heart palpitations, sweating, reathlessness and dizziness

Other Causes

  • mastitis – pain and swelling of the breast, which is usually caused by an infection, most commonly during breastfeeding

  • acute cholecystitis – inflammation of the gallbladder, which can cause a sudden sharp pain in the upper right side of your tummy that spreads towards your right shoulder

  • stomach ulcers – a break in the lining of the stomach, which can cause a burning or gnawing pain in your tummy

  • a pulmonary embolism – a blockage in the blood vessel that carries blood from the heart to the lungs, which can cause sharp, stabbing chest pain that may be worse when you breathe in, as well as breathlessness, a cough and dizziness

  • pericarditis – inflammation of the sac surrounding your heart, which can cause a sudden, sharp and stabbing pain in your chest, or more of a dull ache; the pain usually worsens when lying down

Some of these conditions can be very serious. Make sure you seek medical advice so you can be correctly diagnosed and treated.

Photo: Wix

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