A wide range of health problems can cause chest pain. In many cases, the underlying cause has nothing to do with your heart — though there's no easy way to tell without seeing a doctor.

Heart-related chest pain

Although chest pain is commonly attributed to heart disease, many people with heart disease say they experience a vague discomfort for which "pain" doesn't seem to be an adequate description. In general, chest discomfort related to a heart attack or another heart problem may be described by or associated with one or more of the following:

  • Pressure, fullness or tightness in your chest
  • Crushing or searing pain that radiates to your back, neck, jaw, shoulders and arms — particularly your left arm
  • Pain that lasts more than a few minutes, gets worse with activity, goes away and comes back or varies in intensity
  • Shortness of breath
  • Cold sweats
  • Dizziness or weakness
  • Nausea or vomiting

Other types of chest pain

It can be difficult to distinguish chest pain due to a heart problem from other types of chest pain. However, chest pain that is less likely due to a heart problem is more often associated with:

  • A sour taste or a sensation of food re-entering your mouth
  • Trouble swallowing
  • Pain that gets better or worse when you change your body position
  • Pain that intensifies when you breathe deeply or cough
  • Tenderness when you push on your chest

The classic symptoms of heartburn — a painful, burning sensation behind your breastbone — can be caused by problems with your heart or your stomach.

When to see a doctor

If you have new or unexplained chest pain or suspect you're having a heart attack, call for emergency medical help immediately.

Nov. 26, 2014

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