What Is that Chest Pain I’m Having?

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By Christopher Leet, MD, FACC Emeritus

Let’s face it: everyone gets chest pain from time to time. Chest pain is one of the most common complaints that emergency room doctors evaluate.

There are certainly scary statistics supporting the need to check out the cause. American College of Cardiology statistics indicate that one-third of people having a bona fide heart attack will have a cardiac arrest within the first 30 to 60 minutes. If this happens in the ER, the outcome is usually good, but not if it happens elsewhere. For that reason, people are urged to promptly seek attention.

However, the vast majority of chest pain complaints are due to other causes. A “twinge” lasting a few seconds is not a heart attack. It is more likely muscular. Also, if you can walk it off, it’s highly unlikely to be the heart. Exercise will invariably make heart pain worse. Chest pain relieved by a dose of antacids indicates heartburn.

While symptoms can vary from person to person, the pain of a heart attack is typically very distinctive. Having had one myself, I know that there can be sweating, frequently nausea and also a feeling of doom. Much attention is paid to different symptoms in women versus men. What both sexes have in common is a feeling of “Something is really wrong!”

Usually, there is discomfort, if not quite pain, in the chest, frequently felt also in the left arm or neck. Sometimes breathing difficulty is more prominent. If that awful feeling of impending doom persists, call for an ambulance. Do not go by passenger car. For heart attack patients, the immediate care that arriving emergency medical technicians (EMT) provide can make the difference between life and death.


Manassas resident Dr. Christopher Leet, now retired, practiced medicine for nearly 40 years, specializing in cardiology and internal medicine.


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