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How To Tell the Difference Between a Heart Attack and Chest Pain?

Everyone has been ingrained with the knowledge that chest pain is one of the symptoms of a heart attack, and when thinking of a heart attack, many people imagine someone dramatically clutching their chest in pain. However, not every case of chest pain signifies a heart attack.

To put things into perspective, millions of Americans visit the emergency room each year with chest pain, but only 20% are diagnosed with a heart attack or unstable angina, which is a warning sign of an imminent heart attack. That doesn’t mean that chest pain should be ignored, but it also doesn’t mean it is always signifying a heart attack.

Additional Symptoms of a Heart Attack

Chest pain that accompanies a heart attack can be described in many ways, including uncomfortable squeezing, pressure, fullness, tightness, burning, or pain in the center of the chest.

 Chest pain is not the only sign of a heart attack, so anyone experiencing chest pain should be aware of any of these additional symptoms:

  • Pain, pinching, numbness, pricking, or other uncomfortable sensations in one or both arms, the neck, back, stomach, or jaw
  • Shortness of breath
  • Lightheadedness or dizziness
  • Sudden vomiting or nausea
  • Unusual fatigue
  • Sudden weakness, heaviness, or aching in one or both arms
  • Cold sweat or flushing.

 It’s also important to know that not everyone who has a heart attack experiences chest pain, so if you have any of the above symptoms, visit an emergency room right away.

Heart Attack vs. Chest Pain

As explained above, there are many different ways to describe chest pain. Let’s discuss the differences between chest pain from a heart attack and chest pain from another condition.

How It Feels

Chest pain from a heart attack often feels like a large amount of pressure, tightness, burning, or squeezing in the chest. In comparison, chest pain that feels like a sharp or knife-like pain resulting from coughing or breathing is likely not due to a heart attack.

Pain Onset

Heart attack chest pain often builds over a few minutes, whereas sudden and sharp pain that only lasts a few minutes is usually due to another cause.

Location of Pain

Chest pain associated with heart attacks often occurs in a diffuse area, including the middle of the chest. Pain that favors one side of the body is less likely to be due to a heart attack. In addition, if the pain is localized to one small spot, it often has a different cause since a heart attack can result in pain that extends to the left arm, jaw, neck, or back.

Length of Pain

If you experience chest pain that lasts for many days, without any other symptoms, the pain is likely not due to a heart attack.

Seek Help

If your chest pain is persistent or worsening, don’t hesitate to visit the emergency room. Even if the pain is not from a heart attack, other conditions that require prompt attention can cause chest pain.

At Kingwood ER, we understand that no cause of chest pain is too small. Every case of chest pain is first treated as a heart attack, and once we can rule that out, we will look into other potential causes until we can determine what is causing your chest pain.

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