Chest Pain (Nonspecific)

It is often hard to give a specific diagnosis for the cause of chest pain. There is always a chance that your pain could be related to something serious, such as a heart attack or a blood clot in the lungs. You need to follow up with your caregiver for further evaluation.

CAUSES

  • Heartburn.

  • Pneumonia or bronchitis.

  • Anxiety or stress.

  • Inflammation around your heart (pericarditis) or lung (pleuritis or pleurisy).

  • A blood clot in the lung.

  • A collapsed lung (pneumothorax). It can develop suddenly on its own (spontaneous pneumothorax) or from injury (trauma) to the chest.

  • Shingles infection (herpes zoster virus).

The chest wall is composed of bones, muscles, and cartilage. Any of these can be the source of the pain.

  • The bones can be bruised by injury.

  • The muscles or cartilage can be strained by coughing or overwork.

  • The cartilage can be affected by inflammation and become sore (costochondritis).

DIAGNOSIS

Lab tests or other studies, such as X-rays, electrocardiography, stress testing, or cardiac imaging, may be needed to find the cause of your pain.

TREATMENT

  • Treatment depends on what may be causing your chest pain. Treatment may include:

  • Acid blockers for heartburn.

  • Anti-inflammatory medicine.

  • Pain medicine for inflammatory conditions.

  • Antibiotics if an infection is present.

  • You may be advised to change lifestyle habits. This includes stopping smoking and avoiding alcohol, caffeine, and chocolate.

  • You may be advised to keep your head raised (elevated) when sleeping. This reduces the chance of acid going backward from your stomach into your esophagus.

  • Most of the time, nonspecific chest pain will improve within 2 to 3 days with rest and mild pain medicine.

HOME CARE INSTRUCTIONS

  • If antibiotics were prescribed, take your antibiotics as directed. Finish them even if you start to feel better.

  • For the next few days, avoid physical activities that bring on chest pain. Continue physical activities as directed.

  • Do not smoke.

  • Avoid drinking alcohol.

  • Only take over-the-counter or prescription medicine for pain, discomfort, or fever as directed by your caregiver.

  • Follow your caregiver's suggestions for further testing if your chest pain does not go away.

  • Keep any follow-up appointments you made. If you do not go to an appointment, you could develop lasting (chronic) problems with pain. If there is any problem keeping an appointment, you must call to reschedule.

SEEK MEDICAL CARE IF:

  • You think you are having problems from the medicine you are taking. Read your medicine instructions carefully.

  • Your chest pain does not go away, even after treatment.

  • You develop a rash with blisters on your chest.

SEEK IMMEDIATE MEDICAL CARE IF:

  • You have increased chest pain or pain that spreads to your arm, neck, jaw, back, or abdomen.

  • You develop shortness of breath, an increasing cough, or you are coughing up blood.

  • You have severe back or abdominal pain, feel nauseous, or vomit.

  • You develop severe weakness, fainting, or chills.

  • You have a fever.

THIS IS AN EMERGENCY. Do not wait to see if the pain will go away. Get medical help at once. Call your local emergency services (911 in U.S.). Do not drive yourself to the hospital.

MAKE SURE YOU:

  • Understand these instructions.

  • Will watch your condition.

  • Will get help right away if you are not doing well or get worse.