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Depression Health Center

Chest Pain Linked to Common Psychiatric Problems

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"Particularly with anxiety, it is unclear whether it is causing the chest pain or people are more aware of the chest pain that they may already have," Hotopf tells WebMD. "It may be that having anxiety makes you more aware of the fairly innocent sensation ... a twinge in the chest."

"I see no particular shortcomings of the study; it strikes me as a fresh exposition of old information," Vincent Felitti, MD, tells WebMD. Felitti, a professor at the University of California, San Diego and head of the section of preventive medicine for Kaiser Permanente Medical Group in Southern California, reviewed the study for WebMD.

Felitti says that the least common cause for chest pain is actually problems with the heart. Some of the pain stems from constant tightening of certain muscles, he says. "All of this goes on unconsciously. In the scalp it's a tension headache. In the back it is chronic low back pain. In the chest it is misrecognized as heart disease."

Felitti adds that the cause of chest pain isn't usually discovered if the person goes to an emergency room. "I think in the settings in which chest pain is usually seen -- typically emergency rooms -- they are not are not likely to be of a mind to look beyond anything that is of cardiac origin; they are simply diagnosing someone as not having something, instead of having something. And that sets up the likelihood of repetition," where the person will continue to have chest pain and feel the need to seek emergency care.

Vital Information:

  • A well-known symptom of a heart attack is chest pain, but heart disease is actually the least common cause of this ailment.
  • A new study shows that in up to 25% of patients, chest pain is a symptom of a psychiatric disorder, usually either anxiety or depression.
  • It is not known whether psychiatric disorders cause chest pain or whether these patients are just more aware of any sensation that they may have.
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