When Chest Pain Becomes a Problem – What to Do

Man experiences chest pain and wonders if he needs to seek treatment for a cardiac event

Let’s get right to it and say that while chest pain, known as angina, can have many causes, it should never be ignored due to the possibility of it being a precursor for severe cardiovascular events. As such, if you are experiencing a medical emergency, be sure to dial 911 immediately or get to your nearest emergency room. If you have a non-emergent, persistent chest pain that cannot be explained away, be sure to visit your primary care specialist or cardiologist urgently to have it evaluated. Let’s explore some of the non-cardiac-related chest pain many of us will experience:

GERD (Chronic Acid Reflux)

There’s a reason why it’s called heartburn, and millions of Americans experience it regularly. Chronic acid reflux, also known as gastroesophageal reflux disease or Gerd, can cause a burning sensation in the middle of the chest. In particularly severe cases, it can feel like a heart attack. How can you tell it’s acid reflux? It typically happens after a large or fatty meal; it tends to accompany a sour taste in your mouth. It usually doesn’t take your breath away or make you faint and can often be controlled, at least temporarily, with over-the-counter antacids like Tums. You may also experience this more often when lying flat, especially if you eat soon before bed.

Intestinal Gas

It may only be gas, but this, too, can send some severe pain into the center of your abdomen. Typically, you will feel gas pain under the lower part of your rib cage anywhere across your abdomen. This pain may radiate elsewhere in the abdominal or chest cavity. Gas pain is usually very transient and very sharp. It does not typically take your breath away, and you usually won’t feel it in your shoulder or down your arm – two possible signs of a heart attack.

Even heart palpitations are most often a non-life-threatening condition known as Afib or atrial fibrillation, or several other cardiac arrhythmias – heart rhythm irregularities. These palpitations are often transient, only happening once in a while but can range from mild to debilitating. Atrial fibrillation is a leading cause of visits to the ER due to chest pain. While most arrhythmias are not immediately life-threatening, they carry potentially significant long-term risks, including a five times greater risk of stroke and heart attacks and a higher risk of congestive heart disease later on in life.

Chest pain can also be a warning sign of an impending heart attack; naturally, this is the most worrisome potential consideration. When the arteries that feed the heart with oxygen-rich blood begin to occlude or narrow due to plaque buildup, they starve the heart of the oxygen it needs to work correctly. Eventually, when the blockage is significant enough, heart tissue begins to die, which is known as a myocardial infarction or a heart attack. While a better understanding of heart attacks has made detection and treatment more rapid and effective, the heart never fully recovers from this event, so prevention is always the best course of action.

While heart attack prevention is an excellent topic for a future blog, every patient should prioritize proper exercise, improve diet and hydration, quit smoking reduce alcohol consumption, and lose weight. These offer the fastest and best paths to minimize their risk.

Once again, if you’re experiencing chest pain, get checked out immediately and never delay in seeking emergency care or calling 911 if you believe you are having a heart attack. Being safe is always the best policy, regardless of the time of day or night.

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Dr. Tordini is a part of Florida Medical Clinic in Tampa

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