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Chest and Respiratory Problems

Chest Pain

Home Treatment - When to Call a Health Professional

Call 911 or other emergency services immediately if you think you may be having a heart attack.

Symptoms of a heart attack include squeezing or crushing chest pain (feels like someone is sitting on your chest) that increases in intensity and/or occurs with any of the following symptoms:

Call your doctor if chest discomfort or pain lasts longer than 30 minutes and there is no obvious cause.

If the person who is having heart attack symptoms loses consciousness, follow the Rescue Breathing and CPR guidelines on See Rescue Breathing and CPR.

Chest pain is a key warning sign of a heart attack, but it may also be caused by other problems.

If chest pain increases when you press your finger on the painful site, or if you can pinpoint the spot that hurts, it is probably chest-wall pain, which may be caused by strained muscles or ligaments or by a fractured rib. An inflammation of the cartilage in the chest wall (called costochondritis) can also cause chest-wall pain. Chest-wall pain usually lasts only a few days. Aspirin or ibuprofen may help. Do not give aspirin to anyone younger than 20.

A shooting pain that lasts a few seconds, or a quick pain at the end of a deep breath, is usually not a cause for concern. Hyperventilation (See Hyperventilation) can also cause chest pain.

Chest pain caused by pleurisy (inflammation of the membrane that surrounds the lungs) or pneumonia (See Pneumonia) will get worse when you take a deep breath or cough. An ulcer (See Ulcers) can cause chest pain, usually below the breastbone, that is worse when your stomach is empty. Gallstones (See Gallstones) may cause pain in the right side of the chest or around the shoulder blade. The pain may worsen after a meal or in the middle of the night. Heartburn See Heartburn) can also cause chest pain. Shingles (See Shingles) may cause a sharp, burning, or tingling pain that feels like a tight band around one side of the chest.

Angina is pain, pressure, heaviness, or numbness behind the breastbone or across the chest. It occurs when there is not enough oxygen reaching the heart muscle. It is a symptom of coronary artery disease. The pain caused by angina may radiate to the upper back, neck, jaws, shoulders, or arms. Angina may be brought on by stress or exertion and is relieved by rest and use of prescribed medication.

A heart attack (myocardial infarction) is caused by blocked blood flow to the heart muscle. The pain of a heart attack is usually more severe than angina, lasts longer, and does not go away with rest or by taking medication that was previously effective for angina. Other symptoms that may be present include sweating, nausea, shortness of breath, weakness, or indigestion.

Lifestyle and other factors that may increase your risk of a heart attack include:

Home Treatment

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For chest-wall pain caused by strained muscles or ligaments or a fractured rib:

  • Use pain relievers such as aspirin, ibuprofen, or acetaminophen. Do not give aspirin to anyone younger than 20.

  • Use an ice pack to help relieve pain the first few days after an injury.

  • After applying ice during the first 72 hours (or until the swelling has gone down), apply heat (a hot water bottle, warm towel, or heating pad) to help relieve pain. Use heat that is no warmer than bath water or the low setting on a heating pad. To prevent burns, do not go to sleep with a heating pad turned on.

  • Using products such as Ben-Gay or Icy-Hot may soothe sore muscles.

  • Avoid any activity that strains the chest area. As your pain gets better, slowly return to your normal activities.

When to Call a Health Professional

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Call 911 or emergency services immediately if symptoms of a heart attack are present (See Chest Pain).

If a doctor has diagnosed the cause of your chest pain and prescribed a Home Treatment plan, follow it. Call 911 or other emergency services if the pain worsens and may be caused by a heart problem, or if you develop any of the heart attack symptoms listed on See Chest Pain.

Call a health professional:

  • If you suspect that you have angina and your symptoms have not been diagnosed.

  • If symptoms of angina do not respond to your prescribed treatment, or if the pattern of your angina changes.

  • If minor chest pain occurs without the symptoms of a heart attack and any of the following apply:

  • You have a history of heart disease or blood clots in the lungs.

  • Chest pain is constant, nagging, and not relieved by rest.

  • Chest pain occurs with symptoms of pneumonia. See Pneumonia.

  • Chest pain lasts longer than 2 days without improvement.

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