Chest pain is never something you should ignore. If you are experiencing it and don’t know the cause, it is always best to seek immediate medical attention. However, while chest pain can be an indication of a heart attack, it can also be caused by a wide variety of other, less serious conditions.
“Textbook” Heart Attack Symptoms and Other Indicators
The image that comes to mind for most people when you say “heart attack” is what is often depicted on TV or in movies. The victim doubles over clutching their chest, clearly in excruciating pain.
In the real world, cardiac events certainly can manifest that way, but they may also cause other, less well-known symptoms, including:
- Pressure, tightness, or a squeezing sensation in the chest or arms
- Chest pain or discomfort that spreads to the jaw, neck, or back
- Sudden dizziness or lightheadedness
- Cold sweat
- Indigestion, nausea, or abdominal pain
- Shortness of breath
- Pronounced fatigue
If you experience one or more of these symptoms for more than five minutes, you should call 911.
Chest Pain that Is Not a Heart Attack
In some cases, chest pain or discomfort is caused by other issues. Conditions that can mimic a heart attack include:
- Panic attack – Chest pain and a racing heartbeat are two of the symptoms of a panic attack that can cause a person to believe they are having a heart attack.
- Muscle strain – The pain from a strained chest muscle, which may become more noticeable well after the injury occurred, can easily be mistaken for a cardiac event.
- Acid Reflux/Heartburn – If you are not a frequent sufferer of heartburn, which is a symptom of acid reflux, the onset of an episode can be frightening and lead you to believe that you are experiencing a medical emergency.
- Shingles – When the virus that causes chickenpox is reactivated in your body, it can cause pain that radiates around your rib cage. While a rash accompanies the condition, you may not notice the bumps initially, especially if you are distracted by the chest discomfort.
- Pancreatitis – Inflammation of the pancreas can cause pain that moves up into the chest, prompting concerns that the issue is related to the heart.
- Costochondritis – The pain that results from inflammation of the cartilage between the ribs can be severe and is sometimes mistaken for a heart attack.
Again, if you are unsure about the cause of your chest pain, it is best to seek help immediately. But, learning about the other causes of chest discomfort can help you identify and understand those symptoms and prevent an unnecessary trip to the emergency room.