You’re not alone if your anxiety rises sharply at the slightest hint of chest pain. Many fear what even a minor twinge may mean about their heart health. But some people ignore even crushing chest pain until they’re in the ambulance heading to the emergency room.
Mark L. Meyer, MD, FACP, FACC, is a leading New York cardiologist at Madison Avenue Cardiovascular in Midtown Manhattan. Dr. Meyer encourages his patients to balance fear with action when experiencing chest pain, starting with a medical evaluation to determine the underlying cause.
What causes chest pain?
Also called the thorax, the chest cavity encompasses the region from your neck to your upper abdomen. Many structures and organs essential to digestion, breathing, and blood circulation reside in the chest, including:
- Esophagus (hollow muscular tube between the mouth and stomach)
- Windpipe (trachea)
- Breastbone and ribs
- Tubes carrying air from the windpipe to your lungs (bronchi)
- Thin membranous tissue covering the lungs and lining the inner chest wall (pleura)
- Thymus gland (essential to the immune system)
- Heart and large blood vessels (veins and arteries)
- Nerves that control sensation, movement, and autonomic functions like your heartbeat
- Numerous muscles, tendons, and ligaments
Acute or chronic illness, disease, or injury involving any of these structures or organs can cause chest pain.
But pain comes in all shapes and sizes. Thus, one of Dr. Meyer’s first steps in determining the cause of your discomfort is often identifying the type of pain you’re experiencing.
When should I worry about chest pain?
Because pain is a signal that something is not right, you should always take note of and monitor chest pain. In addition, Dr. Meyer encourages his patients to schedule an appointment whenever they experience new or worsening pain.
While symptoms of a heart attack vary greatly from one person to the next, Dr. Meyer recommends seeking emergency care if you experience these classic signs, including:
- Chest pain, ranging from a squeezing, crushing, or pressure sensation to persistent aching
- Cold sweats
- Pain spreading to the shoulder, arm, back, neck, jaw, teeth, or upper stomach
- Sudden fatigue
- Shortness of breath
- Indigestion (heartburn)
Many people experiencing a heart attack also become increasingly anxious, agitated, and restless. Quick action at this point can save your life. Call 911, stay on the line, and follow the dispatcher’s directions until emergency professionals arrive.
What if chest pain isn’t related to my heart?
Noncardiac chest pain may be related to:
- Muscle strain
- Digestive disorders such as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
- Inflammation of cartilage connecting the ribs to the breastbone (costochondritis)
- Gallbladder disease
- Pneumonia and other lung infections
- Pleurisy (inflammation of the pleural membrane covering the lungs)
- Stress, anxiety, panic attack
- Pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas)
- Pulmonary embolism
Many other conditions can cause noncardiac chest pain. Dr. Meyer also offers concierge internal medicine services at his practice, which may include diagnosis, management, or specialty referrals for chronic illnesses.
Schedule an evaluation with Dr. Meyer today at Madison Avenue Cardiovascular for outstanding, personalized care designed to meet your needs.