Chest pain is among the top reasons people go to the emergency room, but it’s also common that people sometimes ignore it, even when it could be serious. So, how do you know whether to seek medical care or not? When should you worry? Our highly trained and knowledgeable care providers at Maryland Cardiology Associates in Greenbelt, Maryland, see patients who are both concerned about chest pain and those who aren’t but should be.

In this post, we talk about what kinds of things can cause chest pain and how to know whether you need to talk to a specialist. In most instances, additional tests are necessary to fully understand why you’re experiencing chest pain.

Non-heart-related issues

If you have chest pain, you may immediately be worried about your heart. It makes sense because a variety of heart issues can lead to chest pain. But, there are also quite a few non-heart-related problems that can cause chest pain.


A panic attack is scary, and you might think you’re having a heart attack for good reason. You may tremble, have heart palpitations, and feel short of breath or dizzy, along with other potential symptoms. You might not even be in the middle of a stressful situation, which can make recognizing a panic attack difficult.

Gastrointestinal problems

It’s called “heartburn” for a reason — GERD, or gastroesophageal reflux disease, can cause a burning sensation in your chest or throat. Similarly, if your esophagus spasms, you may feel chest pain. These sudden, hard, and uncoordinated contractions are sometimes called “nutcracker esophagus.”

Peptic ulcers are sores in the lining of your stomach and can cause a vague discomfort that seems like chest pain. Sometimes the pain is relieved by antacids. When your pancreas becomes inflamed, it’s called pancreatitis. One common symptom is pain in your lower chest that gets worse when you’re lying down.

Musculoskeletal issues

You may think that the difference between a pulled muscle and a heart attack would be obvious, but really, pain can be confusing. A broken rib, muscle strain, or even conditions like shingles which affect your nerves can cause pain in your chest that can be surprising and concerning.

Pulmonary problems

Many conditions that affect your lungs can cause chest pain. One example is pneumonia, which is a lung infection that can cause all sorts of symptoms, including a deep ache in your chest.

A pulmonary embolism, or blood clot in your lungs, can cause chest pain, difficulty breathing, and a rapid heart rate, along with other serious symptoms. Asthma is another potentially serious condition that most people don’t realize can cause chest pain.

Heart issues

It’s important to note that chest pain isn’t always a symptom of heart disease. Just as chest pain can stem from something unrelated to your heart, you can have a serious heart problem but not have chest pain.

But if you have a feeling of pressure, fullness, or burning in your chest, or you experience a crushing or searing pain that spreads from your chest to your back, neck, shoulders, or arms, it could well be a serious heart issue. Some heart issues that commonly cause chest pain include:

  • Heart attack
  • Myocarditis
  • Angina
  • A tear in your aorta
  • Pericarditis
  • Valve problems
  • Cardiomyopathy

When to get help

If you have chest pain, especially if it recurs, gets worse, or is debilitating, you should talk to your doctor. Most of the time, additional tests are necessary to fully understand what’s causing your pain.

Talking to a medical professional and getting to the bottom of the issue can be life-saving. Schedule your appointment at Maryland Cardiology Associates today. Call our office or book a visit online anytime.

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