Chest Pain Cause Medical Help Seeking

Not all causes of chest pain are life-threatening. However, if you or someone you know is experiencing chest pain, it is important to know when to seek medical help. While chest pain caused by a severe case of heartburn likely won’t require a trip to the doctor, chest pain caused by a heart attack or pulmonary embolism requires immediate medical attention.

Knowing when to seek medical help is vital to preventing serious health problems or even death.

Causes of Chest Pain that Require Attention

Although chest pain can be caused by a heart attack, not everyone experiencing chest pain is having a heart attack. Chest pain can be linked to a number of conditions. The following causes of chest pain all require medical attention:

  • Aortic Dissection: Aortic dissection occurs when the inner layers of the aorta separate, causing blood to accumulate between them. A person experiencing aortic dissection will feel sudden tearing pain in his chest and back.
  • Coronary Spasm: A coronary spasm occurs when the arteries that bring blood to the heart spasm, temporarily stopping blood from reaching the heart. Chest pain associated with coronary spasm can cause varying degrees of chest pain and can occur when a person is active or at rest.
  • Heart Attack: A person having a heart attack will often cause chest pain that patients have described as crushing, pressure or fullness. The chest pain associated with a heart attack lasts for more than just a few minutes. Often, chest pain is accompanied with anxiety, shortness of breath, nausea and dizziness. Please note, however, that some people who are having heart attacks experience no symptoms.
  • Pericarditis: Pericarditis is a condition marked by inflammation of the sac surrounding the heart. It is often related to a viral infection. Pericarditis causes sharp, piercing pain that is centralized.
  • Pleurisy: Pleurisy is when the membrane that lines the cavity of your chest and that covers your lungs becomes inflamed. It can cause sharp, localized pain that worsens when you inhale or cough.
  • Pulmonary Embolism: Pulmonary embolism occurs when a blood clot breaks free from its original location, travels through your blood stream and becomes lodged in the arteries that supply blood to your lungs. This condition causes sharp pain that starts or gets worse when you take a deep breath.

If you or someone you know is having chest pain that could be linked to any of the conditions above, seek medical help immediately. Remember, it is better to seek medical help when it is not needed than to suffer permanent injury or even death for not getting proper medical treatment.

In general, you should seek medical attention if you are experiencing chest pain that is unexplained and persistent, especially if your chest pain is accompanied by the following symptoms:

  • anxiety
  • dizziness
  • nausea
  • pain that radiates from your chest to one or both arms or your neck
  • shortness of breath
  • sweating.

Less Serious Causes of Chest Pain

Chest pain can also be caused by several non-life-threatening conditions.

  • Angina: When deposits of fat build up in the arteries that carry blood to the heart, blood flow to the heart can become restricted. When this occurs, chest pain known as angina (also known as angina pectoris) can result. Patients often describe angina as a tightness or pressure in the chest. The pain generally lasts only a few minutes and is triggered by physical or emotional stress.
  • Heartburn: Heartburn occurs when acid from your stomach seeps into your esophagus. Pain caused by heartburn generally feels like a burning sensation behind your breastbone and is often accompanied by a sour taste and the feeling of food re-entering the mouth. The pain worsens when you bend forward or lie down.
  • Injured Ribs or Pinched Nerves: A bruised or broken rib as well as a pinched nerve can cause sharp, localized chest pain.
  • Sore Muscles: Chest pain caused by muscles tends to occur when you raise your arms or twist from side to side.

If you know your chest pain is caused by one of the above conditions, you probably do not need immediate medical attention. However, it is important to schedule an appointment with your doctor to discuss your chest pain and any accompanying symptoms.


Mayo Clinic Staff (November 7, 2006). Retrieved November 1, 2007, from the Mayo Clinic Web site: