Whenever chest pain occurs, there is always the possibility that a person is having a heart attack, especially if the person is at high risk for heart attacks or is experiencing other related symptoms. But chest pains can also be caused by many other conditions, including common illnesses and infections, emotional disturbances or disorders of nearby organs.
A variety of different illnesses can lead to chest pains because they produce inflammation and swelling of muscles in the chest wall or shoulder. Burning pains that get worse when a person lies down or bends over are usually the result of heartburn or minor disorders of the stomach and esophagus.
Another condition that can lead to chest pain is a nerve infection called shingles, which affects the nerves in the area of the ribs.
Chest pains can also indicate emotional distress caused by anxiety, depression or everyday stress. In some cases, chest pains are accompanied by other symptoms that may indicate a more serious medical problem.
A person should seek medical help immediately if chest pain is accompanied by any one of the following symptoms:
- shortness of breath;
- coughing, especially if the person is coughing up bloody, yellowish or foul-smelling sputum;
- or a temperature over 100 degrees Fahrenheit.
Chest pain doesn’t always mean that a person is having a heart attack, but when in doubt, go immediately to the nearest hospital. If the problem turns out to be a minor illness, the most you’ll have to suffer is a little embarrassment. But if it’s really a heart attack, you and your family will be happy that you acted quickly, since prompt medical attention is critical to limiting the damage to your heart and perhaps in saving your life.