What Causes Chest Pain That Comes and Goes?

Having on and off chest pain? Angina is usually the answer so you should watch out for the signs of this condition. Also know the warning signs of a heart attack.

Chest pain can be quite sharp at time or it can be quite dull as well. Some people describe their chest pain as burnish or crushing sensation. Some people also notice the pain moving up the neck, to the jaw, and then moving to the arms and back. It can be quite serious if it has something to do with the heart or lungs. As it is not easy to determine the exact cause of chest pain, you should go see your doctor in serious conditions.

What Causes Chest Pain That Comes and Goes?

It could be angina, which is an indication of coronary artery disease. You experience this pain when there is a reduction in the blood flow to the heart muscle. The most common symptoms associated with angina are nausea, sweating, fatigue, dizziness, shortness of breath, and chest pain. Pain in the arms, shoulders, jaw, neck, or back is also a typical symptom of angina.

The chest pain associated with angina is usually described as squeezing, pressure, fullness, and severe pain in the center of the chest. Some people also describe angina pain as someone has placed a heavy weight on their chest. There can be a difference in duration, severity, and type of angina. You should not ignore any chest discomfort that's new and is persistent. Here's a bit more about different forms of angina and their characteristics.

Stable Angina

It's the most common form of angina and occurs with exertion in which your heart works harder, like when climbing stairs or working out. It usually goes away when you rest. The discomfort stays for five minutes or even less. Taking angina medication will also help treat your pain. Don't ignore it if you've just started experiencing chest pain that comes and goes. Your doctor will look for certain symptoms and determine the best treatment option.

Unstable Angina

Unlike stable angina, the pain may starts even when you're resting. You will also notice a change in the usual pattern of angina. It may come anytime and may or may not go away with your angina medication. It sometimes lasts for as long as half an hour. This could be a sign of a heart attack. It indicates a medical emergency, so seem immediately medical attention.

Angina in Women

Women may experience different angina symptoms. These symptoms will be a bit different from the classic symptoms associated with angina. They usually experience symptoms such as shortness of breath, nausea, extreme fatigue, and abdominal pain with or without chest pain. Some women may also feel discomfort in the jaw, neck, or back.

Can It Be a Heart Attack?

In most cases, chest pain doesn’t usually indicate a heart attack. Specific symptoms of heart attacks include indigestion, fullness, or choking feeling with discomfort radiation to the back, throat, jaw, and arm. Other symptoms include the following:

  • Pressure, discomfort, and heaviness in the chest right below the breastbone
  • Nausea, sweating, dizziness, or vomiting
  • Anxiety, weakness, or shortness of breath
  • Irregular or rapid heartbeat

The symptoms of a heart attack will last longer than half an hour and won't be relieved by rest or nitroglycerin. It is worth pointing out that some people may have a 'silent' myocardial infarction and experience no symptoms at all. That's common in people with diabetes.

Heart-Related Chest Pain vs. Other Chest Pain

A wide range of issues can cause chest pain that comes and goes,but it is important to learn how to differentiate between heart-related chest pain and other types of chest pain. Here's what you need to know in this regard.

Heart-Related Chest Pain

Many people say they experience a vague discomfort in a heart related chest pain. This will feel more like fullness, pressure, or tightness in the chest with pain that lasts more than a few minutes and becomes worse with activity. Other signs associated with heart-related chest pain are shortness of breath, dizziness, cold sweats, nausea, vomiting, and crushing pain that radiates to your neck, back, shoulders, jaws, and arms.

Other Types of Chest Pain

It is never easy to tell if the pain you're feeling in your chest is due to a heart problem or something else is not right. If you experience the following symptoms, the chances are you aren't experiencing chest pain due to a heart related issue.

  • Trouble swallowing
  • A sour taste
  • Chest pain that comes and goes with a change in your body position
  • Tenderness on your chest
  • Pain that aggravates when you cough or breathe deeply

Other Common Causes of Chest Pain

You may experience pain when something is wrong with any of the structures within your chest.

  • Muscle tenderness in chest cavity may sometimes cause chest pain as well. It is important to understand that your lungs don't have nerve connections, so you should not feel pain; however, the lining around your lungs may become inflamed and cause pain.
  • You may experience chest pain due to pulmonary embolism, which refers to a condition caused by the sudden blockage of a blood artery in the lung. This usually happens due to a blood clot, but they are generally small enough to cause no damage to the lung. Pulmonary embolism will produce symptoms such as sharp chest pain, sudden shortness of breath, and a cough that brings up pink mucus.
  • The esophagus is the tube connecting your mouth to your stomach. Sometimes, your stomach acids will move up the esophagus that will cause pain in the chest. Often called "heartburn", it has nothing to do with your heart but it can mimic a heart disorder.

In case you cannot pinpoint the underlying cause, it is better to not play doctor and seek immediate medical assistance to confirm what's causing pain. Don't wait for things to improve, especially when you experience discomfort in your upper back chest, jaw or left arm, or you develop a cold sweat with vomiting or nausea. 

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