Chest Pain, Acute

Severe, sudden chest pain can represent a life-threatening problem. Follow this chart for more information.

Step 2

Answering Questions

  • Is the affected person an infant or child?

  • Do you have severe chest pain?

  • Do you have symptoms of a cold or the flu, such as fever, aches, chills, runny nose, and/or cough?

  • Do you have a cough that produces greenish, yellowish, or tan mucus, a fever, and shortness of breath?

  • Do you have a cough that produces a small amount of clear mucus, and does your chest hurt when you take a deep breath?

  • Are you uncomfortable from your shortness of breath?

  • Does the pain or discomfort occur only when you swallow or after you eat?

  • Do you have a severe, sharp pain on one side of your chest when you take a deep breath?

  • Do you experience shortness of breath when you are physically active and/or when you’re lying down?

  • Do you have pressure in your chest, shortness of breath and numbness around your lips or in your hands or feet?

  • Do you have any of the following symptoms: crushing pain or uncomfortable pressure in the middle of your chest that lasts more than a few minutes; squeezing pain in the chest or left upper arm; sweating and nausea; or severe shortness of breath?

  • Do you have a painful, blistering rash on your chest or back?

  • Do you have back pain that radiates around to the front of your chest?

Step 3

Possible Causes

  • See Chest Pain in Infants and Children
  • Diagnosis

    If the pain is in the center of your chest and feels like something heavy is sitting on your chest, you may be having a HEART ATTACK or MYOCARDIAL INFARCTION.


    Self Care

    Go to the closest emergency room or call an ambulance right away.


  • Diagnosis

    You likely have a viral infection, which includes the FLU.


    Self Care

    If it is within 48-72 hours from the beginning of symptoms, there are medications that your doctor can prescribe if you test positive for, or they suspect the FLU. If it is outside the 48-72-hour window or it is not the flu, then symptomatic treatment (treating cough, headache, sinus congestion, sore throat, etc. can be accomplished with an over-the-counter cough and cold medication). Get plenty of rest and drink plenty of water. Call your doctor if you have a high fever (greater than 101.5°F) or your symptoms persist for more than 5 days.


  • Diagnosis

    Your symptoms may be from an infection, such as PNEUMONIA.


    Self Care

    PNEUMONIA can be a serious health problem. See your doctor right away or go to the closest emergency room if you are having trouble breathing.


  • Diagnosis

    You may have VIRAL BRONCHITIS. Your pain may also be caused by PLEURISY, an irritation of the lining of the lung that is usually caused by a viral infection. Hard coughing may also cause pain in the muscles and chest wall.


    Self Care

    Drink plenty of water, and try cough and cold medicines and/or anti-inflammatory medicines to relieve your symptoms. See your doctor if the cough continues for more than a few days or if you develop a fever.


  • Diagnosis

    This may be a HEART ATTACK, MYOCARDIAL INFARCTION, or PNEUMONIA.


    Self Care

    Go to the closest emergency room or call an ambulance right away.


  • Diagnosis

    Your pain may be from an irritation of the stomach called GASTRITIS or an irritation of the esophagus called ESOPHAGITIS. A HIATAL HERNIA (a weakness in the diaphragm) or esophageal spasms may also cause this type of pain and discomfort. Trouble swallowing food (feeling like food gets stuck) is called DYSPHAGIA and should be evaluated.


    Self Care

    Try taking an antacid, eat smaller, more frequent, and less spicy meals. See your doctor if the problem persists or if you have DYSPHAGIA.


  • Diagnosis

    Your pain may indicate PNEUMOTHORAX, a condition in which air leaks from a lung and fills the chest cavity. This makes it difficult to breathe.


    Self Care

    See your doctor right away or go to the closest emergency room. Treatment of PNEUMOTHORAX may require hospitalization.


  • Diagnosis

    You may have a serious problem, such as CONGESTIVE HEART FAILURE, ASTHMA, or PULMONARY EDEMA.


    Self Care

    See your doctor right away.


  • Diagnosis

    These could be symptoms of HYPERVENTILATION, an episode of overbreathing often caused by stress or anxiety. It can also be caused by increased breathing when your body is not getting enough oxygen and you begin to breathe faster.


    Self Care

    If you have a heart condition, lung condition, ASTHMA, or if you are experiencing rapid breathing for the first time, go directly to the emergency room.

    If you have hyperventilated before due to stress or anxiety, your doctor may have given you information about treating yourself. Lie down, relax, and try to slow your breathing. Try breathing through pursed lips (as if you were whistling), or cover your mouth and one nostril, and breathe through the other nostril. Talk with your doctor about relaxation treatments, to include mindfulness and meditation.


  • Diagnosis

    Your pain may be from a HEART ATTACK or MYOCARDIAL INFARCTION. Similar to men, chest pain is the most common HEART ATTACK symptom in women. However, women are more likely than men to experience the following symptoms (with or without chest pain) when having a heart attack: abdominal pain, feeling lightheaded or dizzy, back or jaw pain, and unexplained fatigue.


    Self Care

    Call an ambulance right away or have someone drive you to the closest emergency room.


  • Diagnosis

    You may have a viral infection of the nerves and skin called SHINGLES, caused by the varicella zoster virus. This can often occur even if you have received the SHINGLES vaccine.


    Self Care

    See your doctor. SHINGLES usually clears on its own, but medication may ease the pain and help prevent complications, such as chronic pain at the site.


  • Diagnosis

    Your pain may be from a compressed nerve, possibly from a COMPRESSION FRACTURE, RIB FRACTURE, or a condition known as COSTOCHONDRITIS.


    Self Care

    See your doctor. You can take anti-inflammatory medications for COSTOCHONDRITIS.


  • Self Care

    For more information, please talk to your doctor. If you think your problem is serious, call right away.


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