Is Your Chest Pain a Sign of Heart Attack? 5 Times to Call 9-1-1

man rubbing is heart

There are many causes of chest pain. While you may think immediately of a heart attack, that’s just one cause. Clots in the lungs, trouble with an aneurysm, heartburn, rib pain, shingles, and panic disorder are just a few other reasons you may experience chest discomfort.

It’s important to seek medical care for chest discomfort. Some causes require immediate emergency care. Others require evaluation by your primary-care provider.

5 Times You Should to Seek Immediate Help

If you have any of the following five characteristics, it’s prudent to call 9-1-1. Emergency medical technicians are trained to assess the severity of concern, provide rapid transport, and administer life-saving care when necessary.

  • Pain that occurs with exertion (walking, climbing steps, or other activity).
  • Pain that’s either new in onset or very severe.
  • Pain that lasts for more than 5 to 10 minutes at a time.
  • Pain that’s related to getting short of breath.
  • Pain that’s scary or worrisome.

Sources and Symptoms of Chest Pain

  • Heart attack: Many people describe a heart attack as a pressure, heaviness or tightness that can spread down the shoulders to the arms.
  • Clots in the lungs can be related to prolonged travel, recent surgery, a clotting disorder, or history of cancer. Symptoms include shortness of breath, pain under the breastbone, and wheezing.
  • A dissecting aneurysm can cause excruciating tearing or ripping pain that can travel to the back.
  • Heartburn is often a burning feeling that can be accompanied by an acid taste.
  • Rib or joint pain is usually tender to touching or moving the area.

What to Watch Out For

Don’t be led astray by typical characteristics of chest pain. There’s considerable overlap in not harmful and serious causes of chest pain. For example, even burning discomfort, reminiscent of heartburn from gastroesophageal reflux, can be cardiac in origin.

While you’re experiencing discomfort, pay attention to the following symptoms: characteristic and location of the pain, shortness of breath, nausea or vomiting, sweating or clammy skin, dizziness or passing out, and palpitations.

If you are taken to the emergency department, you’ll have blood work, an electrocardiogram (ECG), and chest X-ray done. The physician may evaluate you further with a computed tomographic scan (CT scan), stress test, or cardiac catheterization. Often, the evaluation requires at least one night of hospital stay.

You can assess your risk disease with LG Health’s Heart Health Profiler.

author name

Ajay R. Marwaha, MD

Ajay Rai Marwaha, MD, is a cardiologist with The Heart Group of Lancaster General Health.

Education: A graduate of Case Western University and the Yale School of Medicine Internal Medicine Residency Program, Dr. Marwaha has extensive experience with advanced cardiovascular diagnostic technologies that help identify cardiovascular disease. His areas of expertise include echocardiography, heart valve disease, cardiac CT, and stress testing.

Call: 717-544-8300

About LG Health Hub

The LG Health Hub features breaking medical news and straightforward advice to help individuals of all ages make healthy choices and reach their wellness goals. The blog puts articles by trusted Lancaster General Health clinical experts, good 'n healthy recipes, videos, patient stories, and health risk assessments at your fingertips.


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