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How to know if chest pains are serious

Chest pain can stem from many health issues. Some are quite serious, while others may be nothing to worry about.

Sometimes, chest pain indicates a blocked artery and a heart attack. This is an emergency situation, in which the heart is not receiving enough blood and oxygen to function correctly.

However, chest pain can also stem from a health issue affecting the lungs, stomach, or muscles, for example.

It is crucial to receive emergency care for chest pain, especially if it is sudden and severe and accompanied by shortness of breath, dizziness, or both.

Many heart conditions can cause chest pain, including:

Heart attack

A heart attack may be the best-known cause of chest pain, and the pain usually occurs in the center of the chest.

People experience this pain differently — some describe it as uncomfortable, sharp, sudden, and severe, while others report a squeezing sensation. In some people, the pain comes and goes.

It is worth noting that a heart attack does not always cause chest pain. A person may experience other symptoms, with or without chest pain, including:

  • cold sweats
  • lightheadedness
  • nausea
  • pain in other areas, such as the arms, back, jaw, or stomach
  • shortness of breath
  • dizziness
  • sweating

Also, males and females may experience heart attacks differently. Learn about the symptoms common in females here.

Anyone who believes that they may be having a heart attack should receive immediate medical attention.

Aortic dissection

This cause of chest pain is a life threatening condition in which a tear forms in the lining of the aorta, one of the body’s most important arteries.

If the tear is large enough or a doctor cannot treat it in time, it can cause fatal bleeding.

The symptoms are similar to those of a heart attack, and they may also include:

  • leg pain or paralysis
  • paralysis on one side of the body
  • difficulty speaking or seeing

Anyone who may be experiencing this should receive immediate medical care.

Pericarditis

Pericarditis occurs when the sac that surrounds the heart, called the pericardium, becomes inflamed.

This can cause chest pain, especially when a person takes a deep breath.

Aortic stenosis

The aortic valve allows oxygenated blood to flow out of the heart’s left ventricle and into the rest of the body.

Stenosis occurs when this valve becomes stiff, either from age or disease. When this happens, and the heart pumps out less blood, it can cause chest pain.

Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy

This condition causes the heart’s muscle to become overly thick, shrinking the heart’s chambers. As a result, the heart is able to hold less blood and cannot pump as effectively.

Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy can also prevent the heart from keeping a healthy electrical rhythm.

The lungs reside in the chest cavity, and the following health issues affecting the lungs can cause pain in the area:

COPD

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is an umbrella term for emphysema and chronic bronchitis.

People with COPD often have pain in the upper middle chest, as well as lung inflammation,