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Chest Pain: Causes & Symptoms

Instructor: Amanda Okuley

Amanda is a Registered Nurse with a passion for knowledge and wellness.

Chest pain can be incredibly scary. In this lesson, we will take a look at a few of the most common causes and symptoms of chest pain, from the serious to the less severe (but still important).

Chest Pain

When you think about the causes of chest pain, the first thing that comes to your mind may be a heart attack, or myocardial infarction if you want to sound fancy. While this might be the culprit, a few other explanations are just as likely. One of the reasons why chest pain is concerning is because there many important organs housed in the chest cavity. The heart, lungs, stomach and esophagus are all situated behind the rib cage, and it pays to be aware of any pain that occurs there.

Heart Attack

The most alarming cause of chest pain is a heart attack. Heart attacks can be mild or severe. Believe it or not, a mild heart attack can occur without symptoms. In fact, some people do not even know they have had a heart attack until years later when a doctor examines their heart. A mild heart attack is when one or more arteries leading to the heart is partly clogged. A severe heart attack is when the arteries are clogged so significantly that blood doesn't flow to the heart at all.

A heart attack causes pain because of the lack of blood flow to the arteries surrounding the heart. All of the arteries around the heart supply it with blood and oxygen. When that flow stops or decreases, a heart attack may occur. If you have ever wrapped an elastic band around your finger, you may have noticed a color change as well as pain. The elastic band restricts the blood flow, and if left without treatment, the tissue in your finger would eventually die. Similarly, the pain from a heart attack is also due to tissue death. One of the most common complaints during a heart attack is extreme pressure in the chest. Many people describe it as feeling like an elephant is sitting on their chest. Another symptom of a heart attack is sharp stabbing pain between the nipples. A heart attack may also cause shortness of breath, weakness or dizziness.

Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease

The food pipe, or esophagus, is very close to the heart. In fact medical professionals can actually examine the heart by inserting an ultrasound tube down the throat and into the esophagus. While this is awesome for those of us in the medical profession, the closeness of the esophagus to the heart can cause many people to panic when they experience heartburn or GERD. Gastroesophageal reflux disease, GERD, can cause painful symptoms ranging from simple pressure in the stomach to an intense burning sensation. Nausea may also be present and contribute to the pain in the chest wall. The pain is caused by acid from the stomach entering the esophagus. The stomach has a special lining that prevents stomach acid from causing damage, but your esophagus is not equipped to handle it. When that acid comes into contact with your esophagus it can cause extreme pain and burning in the chest.

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