Chest Pain? When It Might Not Be A Heart Attack

Of all the new aches and pains that come with age -- some chronic, some fleeting -- nothing can be more frightening than experiencing unprovoked pains in your chest or difficulty breathing. Although your first thought may be to drive yourself to the emergency room for heart attack treatment, in many situations these chest pains could point to a more minor issue. Read on to learn about several less-serious conditions whose symptoms can often mimic those of a heart attack, as well as a few red flags that should have you heading to the emergency room immediately.


If you've recently suffered a bad cough or cold and begin experiencing stabbing pains in your chest, it's possible that you're suffering from pleurisy -- a painful inflammation of the membrane that cushions and protects your lungs.  

Pleurisy can have a variety of causes, ranging from minor to severe, but most cases stem from a viral infection. Although there are no medications that can be prescribed to kill a cold virus, you may still want to visit your doctor to determine the precise cause of your pleurisy and what treatments may be needed. In minor cases, this condition can resolve on its own; in more severe ones, you may need to have the fluid around your lungs manually drained. 

Gas or heartburn

If you suffer from occasional heartburn, you likely recognize the symptoms -- an acid taste in your mouth and burning in your throat. However, there are times that heartburn may present with no symptoms other than some chest tightness or pain. Gas may also cause chest pain as it expands in the intestines, forcing the other organs upward (and straining the membranes holding them in place). 

You'll generally be able to positively identify your chest pain as caused by one of these factors if the pain abates after you've taken an antacid or passed gas.

When should you seek emergency medical treatment?

Although not all chest pain is indicative of a heart attack, there are a few telltale symptoms that should have you immediately rushing to the hospital. These include:

  • Sharp pain in the left side of your chest, possibly radiating out to your left arm or up to the left side of your neck; 
  • Chest pain that does not diminish with antacids, shifting position, or rest; 
  • Chest pain accompanied with nausea, fatigue, or cold sweat; and 
  • Significant chest pressure (like someone is standing on you). 

Although not every case involving the above symptoms ends up as a heart attack, these symptoms generally indicate a pressing cardiac issue (such as an aortic dissection or endocarditis). You'll need to seek emergency care to improve your chances of a full recovery. 

To learn more about chest pain, contact a clinic like Alpert Zales & Castro Pediatric Cardiology