Many people with chest pain fear that they are having a heart attack. However, there are many potential causes of sudden chest pains. Some causes are mildly inconvenient while other causes are serious and require immediate professional assistance.
Heart attack or myocardial infraction (MI) occurs when the heart muscles experiences a severe or prolonged decrease supply of oxygen-rich blood. Heart attack is caused due to formation of clot in the coronary artery. The pain following a sudden cardiac attack is usually similar to classic angina, but tends to be more severe and lasts longer (more than 30 minutes). The pain classically is described as pressure-like, squeezing, constriction, strangling, crushing or tight pain.
The location of the pain in majority of cases is in the centre of the chest under the breastbone. The pain is more often located under the lower two thirds of the breast bone. The next most common area of pain is the upper half of breastbone and the cavity of the stomach. Heart pain occurs mainly in the middle of the chest, and doctors often use term “central retrosternal chest pain” as being typically from heart attack. Finally, pain from all three areas radiates up or down to involve the entire chest, neck, throat, lower jaws, teeth (feeling like toothache) arms and shoulders. Sometimes, the pain is felt in wrists, fingers or back.
If the pain is sensed only on one side of the chest and not in the center of the chest, it is less likely to be caused due to cardiac attack. If the patient is able to point with a finger to specific area of pain, it is unlikely to be caused due to cardiac attack.
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