Chest pain is a symptom of an underlying condition. Although many people associate chest pain with heart conditions, many noncardiac disorders can also trigger it. The underlying condition may be life-threatening (e.g., heart attack, pulmonary embolism), but most times it is not (e.g., heartburn, muscle strain, costochondritis, transitory benign chest wall pain, panic attack).
To ensure proper treatment, people experiencing any form of chest pain are encouraged to contact their physician. Patients should contact their physician immediately when chest pain lasts longer than three to five days, and when it is accompanied by fever or a cough that produces yellow-green phlegm. Patients should seek emergency medical treatment when chest pain is severe or is accompanied by nausea, dizziness, sweating, a racing heart or shortness of breath. A sudden sensation of crushing, squeezing, tightening or pressure in the chest, or pain that radiates to the jaw, neck, arm or shoulder blade, is also a cause for serious concern.
To determine the cause of chest pain, a physician may order a number of tests including blood tests, electrocardiograms and imaging studies such as x-rays or MRI. Treatment for chest pain depends on its cause. Though some causes require only minor treatment (e.g., antacids, NSAIDs), more serious conditions may require surgery such as angioplasty or coronary bypass. Some conditions may even resolve with no medical treatment. Although many causes of chest pain cannot be prevented, patients can reduce their risk by making healthy lifestyle choices. This may include achieving and maintaining a healthy weight and exercising regularly.