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Heart Disease Health Center

Quick Facts on Chest Pain

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Are there different types of angina? continued...

With unstable angina, chest pain can occur even without exertion. Here a clot partly or completely blocks your heart arteries for a short period of time. However, the clot either breaks up by itself or breaks up after treatment with medications, so permanent damage to the heart does not occur. If the clot persists, a heart attack will result. With a heart attack the blockage lasts long enough to permanently damage part of your heart muscle. The longer your heart muscle goes without oxygen, the larger the heart attack. Your doctor will consider three important factors in deciding whether you are having a heart attack:

  • Your description of your symptoms
  • Your EKG results
  • Your blood tests (cardiac enzymes show heart muscle damage)

What other conditions may cause chest pain?

Although chest pain is the most common symptom of a heart attack and heart disease, discomfort in the chest may also be caused my many other conditions, such as:

Digestive system problems:

  • Stomach acid moving upward into the esophagus (esophageal reflux or heartburn)
  • Muscle spasm of the esophagus
  • Gallbladder disease
  • A sore in the lining of the stomach or small intestine (peptic ulcer)

Inflammation:

  • Inflammation of the membrane surrounding the lungs (pleurisy)
  • Inflammation of the membrane covering the heart (pericarditis)

Heart, lung, and heart valve problems:

  • A tear in the wall of the aorta (aortic dissection)
  • Narrowing of the aortic valve (aortic stenosis)
  • A blood clot in one of the arteries of the lungs (pulmonary embolism)

Other causes:

  • Panic, anxiety, stress, or depression
  • Shingles (herpes zoster), a reactivation of the chickenpox virus that causes pain and rash
  • Pain in the bones and/or muscles of the chest wall

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