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What Does That Pain in Your Chest Mean?

Pain is notoriously difficult to describe, and the same area of your body may hurt for a variety of reasons. Consider, for example, a twisted ankle and a blister from an ill-fitting shoe. Both situations result in pain, but for very different reasons — and they require different treatments. 

The skilled professionals at Heart & Vascular Institute urge anyone experiencing chest pain to seek medical care. It may not be serious, but it could be a symptom of cardiovascular disease, or even a heart attack, so don’t take any chances. If you have chest pain, talk to your doctor.


The medical name for chest pain is angina, and there are several kinds. Angina isn’t itself a condition, but rather a symptom. Often angina is associated with coronary artery disease

Coronary artery disease is dangerous. The arteries around your heart are narrowed by a buildup of plaque, and your heart isn’t getting the nutrients it needs to function optimally. 

If the pain you’re feeling is angina, it may be triggered by specific things like exercise, excitement, or distress. It may spread so that you feel it in your arm, back or jaw. It likely feels like pressure, or like you’re being squeezed on the inside. 

Early intervention is extremely important if you have coronary artery disease, and it can prevent a heart attack. If you experience chest pain when you exercise or feel excited, schedule an appointment with one of our experts. 

Heart attack

When you have chest pain, your first thought might be, “I’m having a heart attack!” And that’s a possibility. When you have a myocardial infarction, or a heart attack, your heart isn’t getting the blood that it needs. 

The pain caused by a heart attack may be in your chest, and it could be similar to the pain of angina — you might feel pressure, or a squeezing sensation. But you may also feel pain in your back, arm, or jaw, and it’s likely to be more severe than the pain of angina. 

During a heart attack, you may also feel nauseous or weak or break into a cold sweat along with having chest pain. If you have those symptoms, get help immediately. The faster you get care the better your outcome is likely to be. 

Lung issues

You might have chest pain because you’re experiencing a problem with your lungs. Viral infections can cause severe chest pain, especially when you breathe, cough, or sneeze. 

Sometimes you have a blood clot and aren’t aware of it. If the clot travels to your lungs, you have a pulmonary embolism, which can cause chest pain along with other symptoms like difficulty breathing and a fast heartbeat. 

Digestive problems

You’ve probably heard stories about someone who thought they were having a heart attack but had heartburn. While it’s not especially common, it can happen. Gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD, can cause severe chest pain. 

There are, in fact, several digestive issues that can cause chest pain, including peptic ulcers, a hiatal hernia, and gallbladder problems, among others. It’s important to get treatment because some digestive issues can continue to worsen and cause permanent damage. 

Other issues, like a strained muscle, can also cause chest pain. It’s important, though, to seek care. Chest pain is a symptom of some serious conditions, so not seeking treatment is risky. 

If you’re having chest pain, schedule an appointment at Heart & Vascular Institute, with offices in Dearborn, Detroit, and Southfield, Michigan. Book a visit at any of them online or by phone.

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