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First Aid - Chest Pain

First aid - Chest pain

Causes of chest pain can vary from minor problems, such as indigestion or stress, to serious medical emergencies, such as a heart attack or pulmonary embolism. The specific cause of chest pain is often difficult to interpret.

As with other sudden, unexplained pains, chest pain may be a signal for you to get medical help. Use the following information to help you determine whether your chest pain is a medical emergency.

Heart attack

A heart attack occurs when an artery that supplies oxygen to your heart muscle becomes blocked. A heart attack generally causes chest pain that lasts longer than 15 minutes. But a heart attack can also be silent and produce no signs or symptoms.

Many people who suffer a heart attack have warning symptoms hours, days or weeks in advance. The earliest predictor of an attack may be recurrent chest pain that's triggered by exertion and relieved by rest.

Someone having a heart attack may experience any or all of the following:

If you or someone else may be having a heart attack:

Pulmonary embolism

An embolus is an accumulation of foreign material — usually a blood clot — that blocks an artery. Tissue death occurs when the tissue supplied by the blocked artery is damaged by the sudden loss of blood. Pulmonary embolism describes the condition that occurs when a clot — usually from the veins of your leg or pelvis — lodges in an artery of your lung.

Signs and symptoms of pulmonary embolism include:

As with a suspected heart attack, dial 911 or call for emergency medical assistance immediately.

Pneumonia with pleurisy

Frequent signs and symptoms of pneumonia are chest pain accompanied by chills, fever and a cough that may produce bloody or foul-smelling sputum. When pneumonia occurs with an inflammation of the membranes that surround the lung (pleura), you may have considerable chest discomfort when inhaling or coughing. This condition is called pleurisy.

One sign of pleurisy is that the pain is usually relieved temporarily by holding your breath or putting pressure on the painful area of your chest. This is not true of a heart attack. See your doctor if a cough and a fever or chills accompany your chest pain. Pleurisy alone, however, isn't a medical emergency.

Chest wall pain

One of the most common varieties of harmless chest pain is chest wall pain. One kind of chest wall pain is costochondritis. It consists of pain and tenderness in and around the cartilage that connects your ribs to your breastbone (sternum).

Often, placing pressure over a few points along the margin of the sternum results in considerable tenderness limited to those small areas. If the pressure of a finger duplicates your chest pain, you probably can conclude that a serious cause of chest pain, such as a heart attack, isn't responsible.

Other causes of chest pain include:

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