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 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's the most likely cause of my chest pain?
- 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?
- I have other medical conditions. How might that affect my treatment?
- Do I need to follow any restrictions after returning home?
- Should I see a specialist?
Don't hesitate to ask 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:
Nov. 26, 2014
- When did your symptoms start? Have they gotten worse over time?
- Does your pain radiate to any other parts of your body?
- What words would you use to describe your pain?
- Do you have signs and symptoms other than chest pain, such as trouble breathing, dizziness, lightheadedness or 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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- 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.
- Diagnosis and Treatment of Chest Pain and Acute Coronary Syndrome (ACS). Bloomington, Minn.: Institute for Clinical Systems Improvement. https://www.icsi.org/guidelines__more/catalog_guidelines_and_more/catalog_guidelines/catalog_cardiovascular_guidelines/acute_coronary_syndrome/. Accessed Sept. 26, 2014.
- Cook A. Decision Support System. Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn. July 8, 2014.
- Mankad R (expert opinion). Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn. Oct. 24, 2014.