Causes of Chest Pain and What To Do

Chest pain is the second most frequent cause for emergency room visits each year in the United States. A wide array of conditions can trigger chest pain, and some are potentially life threatening. Chest pain commonly refers to the discomfort along the front of your body between your neck and upper abdomen. It can be felt in many distinct ways, located in various areas, and associated with other symptoms. How do you know if it’s indigestion or something more serious, such as a heart attack? Let’s find out.

Chest Pain Symptoms

Chest pain can feel different to each person, including sharp, dull, burning, pressure, tightness or a squeezing-like discomfort. It can be focused in a particular area or it can affect the entire chest. Certain types of chest pain are triggered by activity or movement, and relieved by rest or a particular body position (leaning forward, for example).

If you have any of the following symptoms, do not self-diagnose and call 911 immediately:

  • Sudden crushing, squeezing, burning, tightening or pressure in your chest
  • Pain that radiates to your jaw, one or both arms, neck, back or between your shoulder blades
  • Nausea, dizziness, sweating, a racing heart or shortness of breath
  • Intense chest discomfort that lasts longer than usual or while you are at rest


The vast majority of chest pain episodes originate from harmless conditions. For example, an abnormality of the musculoskeletal structures in your chest wall. It’s important to get medical advice to rule out the possibility of a life-threatening cardiovascular or pulmonary problem, such as:

  • Unstable angina
  • Myocardial infarction
  • Aortic dissection
  • Pericarditis
  • Pulmonary embolism
  • Pneumothorax
  • Pneumonia

Diagnosis and Treatments

Your heart care is our passion and our priority at the Detroit Medical Center (DMC). With the right treatments, your heart health and quality of life can vastly improve, and further health complications may be prevented.

Dr. Marian Mocanu, Interventional Cardiologist at the DMC, gives this recommendation to patients, “See a cardiologist right away if you experience chest pain so you can be evaluated for the presence of a potentially life-threatening cardiovascular condition. Your doctor may ask about your symptoms and medical history, perform a physical exam, ask about your risk factors for heart disease, and may recommend further tests. If your symptoms are severe, please do not delay your care.”

The hospitals of the DMC offer advanced heart and vascular care close to home. Our cardiovascular experts are equipped with the technology and expertise to perform the following procedures and services:

Diagnostic Testing

  • Electrocardiogram (ECG)
  • Echocardiogram (EEG)
  • Coronary Computed Tomography Angiography
  • Chest X-ray
  • Arterial vascular study for the lower extremity
  • Exercise stress test
  • Dobutamine stress test with echocardiography imaging or nuclear imaging
  • Lexiscan nuclear stress test
  • Transesophageal echocardiogram (TEE)
  • 4-Hour Holter monitors
  • 30-day event monitors
  • Left and right heart catheterization
  • Coronary angiogram
  • Electrophysiology study

Common Treatments

  • Percutaneous coronary interventions; angioplasty, atherectomy, stenting
  • Transcatheter aortic valve replacement (TAVR)
  • Heart valve repair or replacement surgery
  • Coronary artery bypass graft surgery
  • Implantation of pacemaker/defibrillator
  • Arrhythmia ablation
  • Surgical or catheter-directed embolectomy for pulmonary embolism

Find a Doctor

The DMC offers advanced care and cardiovascular expertise to help improve your heart health and quality of life. Our experienced cardiologists, cardiovascular surgeons, interventional cardiologists and compassionate staff are committed to providing expert heart care from diagnosis and treatment to recovery and rehabilitation.

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