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Chest pain

Heart attacks can be tricky. Although it’s uncommon, not everyone who’s having a heart attack has chest pain.

Most of us wisely think “heart attack” when someone has chest pain. More than 1 million people have a heart attack each year. That number equals the populations of Milwaukee and Minneapolis combined.

If you think you may be having a heart attack, call 9-1-1. Don’t wait. Call even if you don’t know if it is a heart attack. The call can save your life.

Here’s some additional information you should know about heart attacks:

Heart attacks can be tricky. Although it’s uncommon, not everyone who’s having a heart attack has chest pain.

Women may experience shortness of breath, fatigue, sudden weakness that feels like the flu.

Diabetics and the elderly may feel unwell, dizzy or weak. They may be short of breath.

We do have some reassuring news: Chest pain may not be a heart attack. Let’s explore:

1. Your health care professional may refer to “angina” or “angina pectoris.” That’s the medical term for chest pain. The terms encompass pressure or tightness in the chest.

Angina is not the same as a heart attack. A heart attack comes on suddenly and the symptoms last longer than 15 minutes, while angina typically comes from stress or exertion and the pain goes away in about 10 minutes. A heart attack feels like extreme pressure or squeezing of the chest, while angina is described as discomfort, not pain.

2. Other than a heart attack, chest pain can be caused by heart conditions such as:

Mitral valve prolapse —

  • your heart’s mitral valve doesn’t close correctly.

Myocarditis —

  • a heart muscle inflammation. Along with chest pain, you may have a fever, fatigue and trouble breathing.

Pericarditis —

  • an infection or inflammation of the sac around your heart. Pain from pericarditis tends to be sharp and steady. You’ll feel it along your upper neck and shoulder muscles. The pain may get worse when you breathe, swallow food or lie on your back.

Aortic dissection —

  • a life-threatening tear develops in your aorta — your largest artery. This uncommon tear causes sudden severe, ripping pain in your neck, back or abdomen.

3. Chest pain can come from one of the other organs in your chest. In fact, for about 25 percent of people with chest pain, the source is not the heart. The source could be your lungs, esophagus, diaphragm or your liver. You also have other muscles, tendons, ribs and lots of nerves in your chest that can be a source of chest pain. Chest pain can be caused by:

  • Heartburn, stomach ulcers, an inflammation of your stomach lining or gallstones.
  • Lung problems such as blood clots, an infection or a collapsed lung.
  • A chest muscle or tendon strain.
  • Asthma.
  • Panic attack.

Again, if you think you may be having a heart attack, call 9-1-1. You won’t know how serious it is until you see your health care professional. If you wait to “see what happens,” you may not see tomorrow.

If you have a chest pain that concerns you, see your health care provider.

Once the cause of your discomfort is diagnosed, a course of treatment can be planned to get you back on your road to wellness.

Dr. Dajun Wang is a cardiologist at Aurora Health Center in Racine at 8400 Washington Ave., Racine, 262-884-4000.

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