Chest Pain

Is this your symptom?

  • Uncomfortable pressure, fullness, squeezing, or other pain in the chest
  • This includes the area from the collar-bone to the bottom of the rib cage

Some Basics...

  • Not all chest pain is serious. But it is safer to assume that chest pain is serious until seen by a doctor.
  • Serious causes of chest pain include angina, aortic dissection (tear in aorta), myocardial infarction (heart attack), pericarditis (inflammation of heart), pneumonia, and pneumothorax (collapsed lung).
  • Less serious cause of chest pain include costochondritis (arthritis of ribs), gastro-esophageal reflux (GERD or acid reflux), and muscle strain.
  • Pain felt in the chest can come from things besides the heart. The ribs, spine, lungs, and other organs in the upper abdomen can also cause chest pain.

Pain Scale

  • None: No pain. Pain score is 0 on a scale of 0 to 10.
  • Mild: The pain does not keep you from work, school, or other normal activities. Pain score is 1-3 on a scale of 0 to 10.
  • Moderate: The pain keeps you from working or going to school. It wakes you up from sleep. Pain score is 4-7 on a scale of 0 to 10.
  • Severe: The pain is very bad. It may be worse than any pain you have had before. It keeps you from doing any normal activities. Pain score is 8-10 on a scale of 0 to 10.

What Are the Symptoms of a Heart Attack?

  • Chest pain or discomfort: This is normally felt in the center of the chest. It may feel like pressure, squeezing, or heaviness. It lasts for more than a few minutes.
  • Upper body pain or discomfort: Felt in the upper arms, jaw, neck, or back.
  • Shortness of breath
  • Other symptoms: These can include sweating more than normal, nausea, and feeling lightheaded.

If you think you are having a heart attack, call 911 (an ambulance) right away!

When to Call for Chest Pain

Call 911 Now

  • Passed out (fainted)
  • Very weak (can't stand)
  • Sweat on or dripping down face
  • Severe trouble breathing (struggling for each breath or can't speak)
  • Lips or face are blue
  • Severe chest pain
  • Chest pain lasting more than 5 minutes and any of these:
    • Pain is crushing, pressure-like, or heavy
    • History of heart disease (angina, heart attack, bypass surgery, angioplasty)
    • Over 50 years old
    • Over 30 years old and have one or more cardiac risk factors (high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol, obesity, smoker, or strong family history of heart disease)
  • Took nitroglycerin and chest pain did not go away
  • You think you have a life-threatening emergency

Call Doctor Now or Go to ER

  • Fever
  • You feel weak or very sick
  • You think you need to be seen, and the problem is urgent

Call Doctor Within 24 Hours

  • Rash or small blisters in same area as pain
  • You think you need to be seen, but the problem is not urgent

Call Doctor During Office Hours

  • Chest pain that comes and goes for a few seconds each time, and lasts more than 3 days
  • Chest pain only when coughing, and lasts more than 3 days
  • You have other questions or concerns

Self Care at Home

  • Chest pains come and go for a few seconds each time
  • Mild chest pain only when coughing

Care Advice

Mild Chest Pain

  1. What You Should Know:
    • Not all chest pain is serious. But it is safer to assume that your chest pain is serious until you see a doctor.
    • Pain felt in the chest can come from things besides the heart. The ribs, spine, lungs, and other organs in the upper abdomen can also cause chest pain.
    • You can treat mild chest pain at home.
    • Here is some care advice that should help.
  2. Fleeting Chest Pain: These pains last only a few seconds and then go away. They are usually not serious. They may be from pinched muscles or nerves in your chest wall.
  3. Chest Pain Only When Coughing: Pain comes from the chest wall and airway irritation. This pain is most often not serious.
  4. Cough Medicines:
    • Over-the-Counter (OTC) Cough Syrups: Some people find that cough syrups help decrease coughing. Dextromethorphan is the most common cough suppressant in OTC cough syrups. Often the letters "DM" appear in the name.
    • OTC Cough Drops: Cough drops can help a lot. They work best for mild coughs. They soothe the tickling feeling in the back of the throat. Cough drops are easy to carry with you.
    • Home Remedy - Hard Candy: Hard candy works just as well as OTC cough drops. Diabetics should use sugar-free candy.
    • Home Remedy - Honey: Honey has been shown to help decrease coughing at night. The adult dose is 2 teaspoons (10 ml) at bedtime.
  5. What to Expect: These mild chest pains most often go away within 3 days.
  6. Call Your Doctor If:
    • Severe chest pain
    • Constant chest pain lasts more than 5 minutes
    • Trouble breathing occurs
    • Fever occurs
    • You think you need to be seen
    • You get worse

Internet Resources

  1. Heart Attack Symptoms and Warning Signs:
    • The American Heart Association has helpful information about heart attack, stroke, and other diseases.
    • You can find this online at: http://www.heart.org/
  2. Women and Heart Disease:

And remember, contact your doctor if you develop any of the 'Call Your Doctor' symptoms.

Disclaimer: This information is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice. It is provided for educational purposes only. You assume full responsibility for how you choose to use this information.


Last Reviewed: 8/18/2017 1:15:39 AM
Last Updated: 5/7/2017 1:36:00 PM

Copyright 2000-2017 Health Navigator, Inc. All rights reserved.

First Aid - Shock - Adult or Teen
  • Lie down with the feet elevated (Reason: counteract shock).

Note: In this illustration the individual in shock is laying down and his feet have been placed up on a stack of blankets.

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