Chest Pain: Is it a Heart Attack?

Chest Pain: Is it a Heart Attack? | Dr. Ali Ghahary

Chest pain can feel different for anyone who experiences it. The pain may be dull and persistent, or it can grab you and be severe. Nonetheless, regardless of how severe the pain is, having any kind of chest discomfort can be a startling and downright scary thing for someone to experience, especially if it comes on suddenly. While the most common thought that people have when they suffer from chest pain is that they’re having a heart attack, there are a few other explanations and potential medical conditions that can also cause chest pain and mimic that of a heart attack, while not actually being related to the health of your heart at all.

First and foremost, it’s important to know what the symptoms of a heart attack are. Chest pain, as mentioned, is the number one indicator that your heart health could be in immediate danger. When suffering a heart attack, this can feel like pressure, tightness, or a squeezing sensation in your chest, and in some cases this pain can extend down the arm, as well as to the neck, jaw, and even your back. There are also a few other symptoms associated with heart attacks, including nausea, indigestion, fatigue, shortness of breath, dizziness, cold sweat, and even abdominal pain. Then there are the risk factors. While anyone can suffer from a heart attack, you’re more at risk if you are over a certain age, obese, are a smoker, have high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, or if there is a history of heart attacks in your family. To decrease your risk of having a heart attack, you should always keep your blood pressure and cholesterol levels under control, as well as stay at a healthy weight which you can do by getting regular exercise and eating a healthy diet, manage your stress level, don’t smoke, and limit your alcohol intake. Making these healthy habit choices will not just prevent you from having a heart attack but will ultimately benefit your overall health and wellbeing.

Then there is pyrosis – the medical definition that is used to describe heartburn – and while “heart” is in the word itself, heartburn doesn’t actually have anything to do with your heart. Instead, it can mimic the symptoms of a heart attack (i.e. chest pain), as well as can manifest in many other ways, such as with stomach pain (including burning in the upper abdomen), coughing, sore throat (often persistent), chronic cough, trouble swallowing, hoarseness, belching, and regurgitation of floods/liquids (which usually includes an acidic taste.) Commonly, pyrosis – or “heartburn” – is often caused as a result of eating certain trigger foods, such as those that are spicy or acidic (i.e. tomatoes, peppers, and citrus fruits.) Food isn’t the only cause of heartburn, however. It can also be caused by smoking, if you have a hiatal hernia, and even from certain medications. If food is the cause, however, it can be easily managed by changing your eating habits. In cases where the heartburn is severe, there are also prescription strength medications your doctor can prescribe, which will help to significantly reduce the severity of your symptoms. If, after changing your eating habits and taking medication and you’re still experiencing heartburn, you may need to be referred to a Gastroenterologist for further evaluation and testing.

Something that you may also not think twice about causing chest pain is your mental health. I’m talking about anxiety, to be precise. Out of all mental health related conditions, anxiety is one that can manifest in a number of different ways. Of course, the most common symptoms of anxiety are feelings of nervousness, restlessness, and panic, but you may also experience symptoms such as sweating, trembling, find yourself feeling weak, tired, and yes, you can even have chest pain. There are many reasons why someone might suffer from anxiety, so to be able to prevent it, you need to know what your triggers are. If you are struggling with your mental health and experience anxiety on a frequent/reoccurring basis, then seeking help, such as by speaking to a counsellor or being referred to a psychiatrist, could be of great benefit to you. In addition, therapy of this nature is also often combined with medication.

If you experience chest pain at any time, you should always be checked out by a medical professional – such as your family doctor, or at the emergency room. While there are many reasons why chest pain might occur, it’s not something that should ever be shrugged off, as it’s always better to be safe than sorry.