Call for an ambulance or have someone drive you to an emergency room if you experience new or unexplained chest pain or pressure that lasts for more than a few moments. Don't waste any time for fear of embarrassment if it's not a heart attack. Even if there's another cause for your chest pain, you need to be seen right away.
What you can do
On the way to the hospital, share the following information with the emergency caregivers:
- Symptoms. Describe your signs and symptoms in detail, noting when they started and whether anything makes the pain better or worse.
- Medical history. Have you ever had chest pain before? What caused it? Do you or any close family members have a history of heart disease or diabetes?
- Medications. Having a list of all the medications and supplements you regularly take will be helpful to the emergency workers. You might want to prepare such a list in advance to carry in your wallet or purse.
Once you're at the hospital, it's likely that your medical evaluation will move ahead rapidly. Based on results from an electrocardiogram (ECG) and blood tests, your doctor may be able to quickly determine if you are having a heart attack — or give you another explanation for your symptoms. You'll probably have a number of questions at this point. If you haven't received the following information, you may want to ask:
- What is likely causing my symptoms or condition?
- Are there other possible causes for my symptoms or condition?
- What kinds of tests do I need?
- Do I need to be hospitalized?
- What treatments do I need right now?
- Are there any risks associated with these treatments?
- What are the next steps in my diagnosis and treatment?
- Do I need to follow any restrictions after returning home?
- Should I see a specialist?
Don't hesitate to ask any additional questions that occur to you during your medical evaluation.
What to expect from the doctor
A doctor who sees you for chest pain may ask:
Dec. 01, 2011
- When did your symptoms start? Have they gotten worse over time?
- Where does your pain seem to start?
- Does your pain radiate to any other parts of your body?
- What words would you use to describe your pain?
- Are you having any trouble breathing?
- Do your symptoms include dizziness or lightheadedness?
- Do your symptoms include vomiting?
- Do you have high blood pressure? If so, do you take medicine for it?
- Do you or did you smoke? How much?
- Do you use alcohol or caffeine? How much?
- Do you use illicit drugs, such as cocaine?
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- Brown JE, et al. Chest pain. In: Marx JA, et al. Rosen's Emergency Medicine: Concepts and Clinical Practice. 7th ed. Philadelphia, Pa.: Mosby Elsevier; 2010. http://www.mdconsult.com/books/about.do?about=true&eid=4-u1.0-B978-0-323-05472-0..X0001-1--TOP&isbn=978-0-323-05472-0&uniqId=230100505-57. Accessed Oct. 3, 2011.
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- Meisei JL. Differential diagnostic of chest pain in adults. http://www.uptodate.com/home/index.html. Accessed Oct. 4, 2011.
- Lee-Chiong L, et al. Evaluation and treatment of chest pain. In: Mason RJ, et al. Murray and Nadel's Textbook of Respiratory Medicine. 5th ed. Philadelphia, Pa.: Saunders Elsevier; 2010. http://www.mdconsult.com/das/book/body/192068760-2/0/1288/0.html. Accessed Oct. 5, 2011.
- Yelland M, et al. An algorithm for the diagnosis and management of chest pain in primary care. Medical Clinics of North America. 2010;94:349.
- What is coronary artery bypass grafting? National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/cabg. Accessed Oct. 5, 2011.
- Ankel F. Aortic dissection: Management. In: Marx JA, et al. Rosen's Emergency Medicine: Concepts and Clinical Practice. 7th ed. Philadelphia, Pa.: Mosby Elsevier; 2010. http://www.mdconsult.com/books/about.do?about=true&eid=4-u1.0-B978-0-323-05472-0..X0001-1--TOP&isbn=978-0-323-05472-0&uniqId=230100505-57. Accessed Oct. 5, 2011.
- Grogan M (expert opinion). Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn. Oct. 17, 2011.
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