Emergency Symptoms Are Good at Hiding
Chest pain can be a symptom of a variety of conditions—some that aren’t even related to the heart. But since a heart attack can be fatal, it’s important to recognize the common symptoms that can help you quickly decide if you should get emergency room care for chest pain.
Signs of a heart attack
Watch for these symptoms, which you may experience in addition to or instead of chest pain:
Symptoms of Heart Attack
- Flushing or breaking out into a cold sweat
- Nausea or vomiting
- Numbness, pain, prickling or other sensations in the back, one or both arms, jaw, neck or stomach
- Severe lightheadedness or dizziness
- Shortness of breath
- Squeezing, tightness, burning, uncomfortable pressure or pain in the center of the chest
- Sudden aching in one or both arms
- Sudden fatigue
Often, over the course of several minutes, chest pain builds gradually and radiates to other areas of the upper body, such as your neck, throat, teeth, arms and shoulders. It’s important to note that sometimes patients will have only upper stomach pain, or pain between the shoulder blades as their only symptom. Chest pain is often worsened by exertion and relieved by rest.
Elderly patients and those with diabetes often have symptoms that are different from everyone else.
If you’re worried that you might be having a heart attack, call 911 immediately. We recommend that you don’t drive yourself; have someone else drive you to the ER. The ambulance provides medics and equipment to provide immediate treatment. If the chest pain is the result of some other cause, don’t feel bad about calling for help—it’s always better to be safe than sorry. In fact, chest pain is the second most common complaint of patients seeking treatment at emergency departments in the US.
Other cardiac conditions
These heart-related diseases may also cause chest pain:
If a person has coronary heart disease, the coronary arteries on the surface of the heart get clogged with plaque (fatty deposits) and the arteries narrow, restricting blood flow to the heart. The chest pain that comes from restricted blood flow is called angina. Sometimes the coronary artery becomes so blocked that it could cause a heart attack. Call 911 if a person who has been diagnosed with and is being treated for angina begins to experience a crushing sensation; stabbing pain; numbness in the chest; or discomfort in the neck, jaw, arms or back. Other signs of an emergency include pain that is accompanied by fainting, nausea or weakness, and if the pain or discomfort is very bad and worsens. If people haven’t been diagnosed with angina before and they have chest pain and these associated symptoms, they should call 911.
Heart Valve Disease
The heart has four valves, which open and close to keep blood flowing in one direction through the heart and ensure proper circulation. When one or more of the valves doesn’t work adequately, one of several heart valve diseases can develop. Symptoms of heart valve disease can include:
- Chest pain
- Extreme fatigue
- Shortness of breath
There are a lot of possible complications from valve disease, including blood clots (which can cause a stroke or pulmonary embolism), infection of the heart valve or arrhythmia. Heart valve problems can be fatal.
If you’ve been previously diagnosed with heart valve disease or heart valve problems and experience emergent symptoms, call 911 immediately.
There are a variety of other medical conditions, unrelated to the heart, that can cause chest pain, as well—conditions like pneumonia, acid reflux, ulcers, panic attacks and even sore chest muscles caused by overexertion while working out or doing other physical activities. The pain could extend from a condition that affects your lungs, or even aorta—the body’s main artery.
The Bottom Line
It’s important to pay attention to all possible signs of heart attack. Some people—especially women, people over 60 and those with diabetes—don’t experience chest pain at all.
If you’re not feeling well and start to have symptoms like breathing difficulties, lightheadedness, pain or tingling in the upper parts of your body, nausea, or dizziness, call 911 and get immediate medical attention at the ER. Our expert ER providers are ready to care for you 24/7.
Are your cardiac symptoms emergent? Find an Eastside ER near you.