With chest pain, most patients are immediately concerned about a possible heart attack, but the minority of chest pain is caused by a cardiac issue like a heart attack.
What different kinds of chest pain do people experience?
Heart attacks are often described as similar to a weight pressing down on the chest. Angina, in which the heart is temporarily not getting enough oxygen, is also described this way. Pain involving the lungs is described as getting worse with inhalation, and pain from the aorta, a large artery in the chest, is described as tearing. Pain from the esophagus, the tube leading from the throat to the stomach, can be accompanied by vomiting blood or difficulty swallowing.
What tests can be done to diagnose chest pain?
Patients with new chest pain generally need to be seen in person. An electrocardiogram, or EKG, can be performed to show electricity moving through the heart. The heart has four chambers, the right and left atria at the top and the right and left ventricles at the bottom. Blood circulates from the right atrium to the right ventricle, through the lungs to the left atrium, down into the left ventricle, and from there to the rest of the body. Electricity normally moves from the upper right to the lower left regions of the heart, signaling the myocardium of the heart when to contract, and when to relax, which results in the opening of valves and filling and pumping of blood. An EKG tells how long electricity takes to pass through each part of the heart, and whether each electrical signal repeats in a normal, regular rhythm. If any part of the heart is dead or scarred from an old heart attack or not getting enough oxygen, the electricity will slow down. This information is expressed on a chart that specialists can read.
Another important test is the chest xray. This can show not only whether an infection (pneumonia) or other lung disorder such as a clot is causing the pain, but gives vital information on the size and shape of the heart.
A tube with a camera attached to it called an endoscope can be inserted by a GI doctor and has the ability to see the esophagus and stomach. Still another diagnostic tool is a tiny camera in pill form that is swallowed by the patient. It sends photographs to a device worn on the patient’s belt.
How is chest pain treated?
Once the cause of chest pain is found, treatment can be prescribed. This can range from a simple antacid or medication to slow down production of stomach acid, to surgery or cardiac catheter for clogged arteries or treatment of esophageal tears.
If the cause of your chronic pain has been documented, QuickMD can help you get your regular medications refilled—all through telemedicine—to avoid any possible gaps without these medications.