What that sudden chest pain could mean

Chest pain can happen to anyone but if it is persistent or comes with additional symptoms, see a doctor as soon as possible.

Consultant cardiologist Raymond Lee discusses how to tell if the discomfort is a passing feeling or a sign of something more serious

A stabbing pain or dull ache in the chest can sometimes occur unexpectedly and cause anxiety. Often, the cause is benign and nothing to worry about. However, it could also be your body’s way of telling you something needs your attention.

Dr Raymond Lee Kok Keong, consultant cardiologist at Mount Alvernia Hospital, explains the likely causes for sudden chest pains, how to recognise the warning signs, and what to do when they occur.

Q What are some likely causes for sudden sharp pain in the chest even if you are at rest? Does it always mean a heart attack?

A sudden chest pain does not always mean you are experiencing a heart attack. It can be attributed to a range of other causes which may not even be related to the heart.

These could be musculoskeletal injuries, such as a pulled muscle, chest wall trauma or rib fractures, which can mimic heart-related discomfort.

Lung diseases like pneumothorax (punctured lung) or pleurisy, a condition where the tissues that separate your lungs from your chest wall become inflamed, also cause chest pain.

Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) where stomach acid irritates the oesophagus, and nerve inflammation such as shingles, are also other causes of chest pain. Additionally, conditions like costochondritis, which involves inflammation of the cartilage connecting the ribs to the breastbone, can produce chest pain.

Q When is someone at a higher risk of having a heart attack if they have sudden chest pain?

Men aged 40 and above or women aged 50 and above who have at least one of the following risk factors – family history of heart disease, sedentary lifestyle, obesity, smoking, hypertension, diabetes or high cholesterol – are at increased risk of heart attack.

Q When should someone see a doctor for sudden chest pain?

Seek medical help immediately if the chest pain is persistent and lasts for more than 10 minutes, or keeps coming back. If you experience other symptoms associated with chest pain such as shortness of breath, palpitations, sweating, nausea, vomiting or blacking out, you should also see the doctor immediately.

Q How can you tell if you are having a heart attack?

You will feel a squeezing, tight or heavy sensation in the centre or left side of the chest. The pain often radiates to the jaw, neck or left arm, lasting at least 20 minutes. This is frequently associated with shortness of breath, palpitations and sweating. Patients may even vomit or black out.

Q How can you tell if you are having a heart attack?

If aspirin is available, take 300mg, crush it and gulp it down with water. This may reduce your chance of dying by 30 per cent. Then, call the ambulance or go straight to a nearby hospital or clinic. With a heart attack, the faster you get to a hospital, the higher the chance of survival.

Source: The Straits Times © SPH Media Limited. Permission required for reproduction.

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