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What's Causing My Chest Pain?

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Chest pain. The first thing you may think of is heart attack. Certainly chest pain is not something to ignore. But you should know that it has many possible causes. In fact, as much as a quarter of the U.S. population experiences chest pain that is not related to the heart. Chest pain may also be caused by problems in your lungs, esophagus, muscles, ribs, or nerves, for example. Some of these conditions are serious and life threatening. Others are not. If you have unexplained chest pain, the only way to confirm its cause is to have a doctor evaluate you.

You may feel chest pain anywhere from your neck to your upper abdomen. Depending on its cause, chest pain may be:

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  • Sharp
  • Dull
  • Burning
  • Aching
  • Stabbing
  • A tight, squeezing, or crushing sensation 

Here are some of the more common causes of chest pain.

Chest Pain Causes: Heart Problems

Although not the only cause of chest pain, these heart problems are common causes:

Coronary Artery Disease, or CAD. A blockage in the heart blood vessels that reduces blood flow and oxygen to the heart muscle itself. This can cause pain known as angina. It's a symptom of heart disease but typically does not cause permanent damage to the heart. It is, though, a sign that you are a candidate for a heart attack at some point in the future. The chest pain may spread to your arm, shoulder, jaw, or back. It may feel like a pressure or squeezing sensation. Angina can be triggered by exercise, excitement, or emotional distress and is relieved by rest. 

Myocardial infarction (heart attack). This reduction in blood flow through heart blood vessels causes the death of heart muscle cells. Though similar to angina chest pain, a heart attack is usually a more severe, crushing pain usually in the center or left side of the chest and is not relieved by rest. Sweating, nausea, shortness of breath, or severe weakness may accompany the pain.

Myocarditis. In addition to chest pain, this heart muscle inflammation may cause fever, fatigue, fast heart beat, and trouble breathing. Although no blockage exists, myocarditis symptoms can resemble those of a heart attack.

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