Is your Chest Pain a Heart Attack?

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(Last Updated On: November 30, 2016)

The causes for chest pain are diverse, and not all of them require a medical intervention urgently. That being said, a Myocardial Infarction (MI), more commonly called a heart attack, one of the common causes of sudden chest pain, is responsible for so many deaths and disabilities, that the sudden onset of chest pain, however it may be described by a patient, warrants an urgent medical consultation, and further investigation.

The commonest causes of chest pain can be grouped according to the organ systems that cause them:

  • Cardiovascular
  • Respiratory
  • Gastrointestinal
  • Other causes

Amongst the cardiovascular causes, a heart attack, or chest pain signifying an impending heart attack due to some blockage in the blood vessels that supply the heart, make up the most common, significant causes.

These are typically described by patient as pain in the centre of the chest, constricting or crushing in nature that usually comes on after some kind of physical or emotional stress. This pain may be relieved to some extent on lying down, and resting. The pain may, in some cases, radiate to the neck, and to the left shoulder and down the left arm. The pain may be associated with breathlessness and episodes of fainting.

It is important to note that in most situations, an MI may not cause the typical features described above. This is especially common in old age, and amongst diabetics. In these conditions, an MI may present simply as heartburn, something that most people dismiss as routine, take an antacid for relief of the symptom, and go about their day, without giving it further thought. Rarely, an MI may present with no chest pain at all (appropriately called a ‘silent’ MI), or may just present with breathlessness, which makes it important to undergo a medical evaluation when such symptoms are noted.

Chest pain in an otherwise healthy person has nothing to get worried about. But keeping in mind just the extremely concerning and dangerous possibility of a MI, a medical opinion should be sought if the onset of chest pain is sudden. This is especially relevant in advanced age, and for people with co-morbidities, like hypertension, diabetes mellitus, etc.

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