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U.S. News & World Report: A Patient's Guide to Chest Pain

U.S. News & World Report recently interviewed Janet Wei, MD, a cardiologist at the Smidt Heart Institute, about the wide variety of conditions that cause chest pain.

According to the U.S. News & World Report article, more than eight million emergency room visits each year are attributed to chest pain, a symptom that experts say shouldn’t be taken lightly. Still, it’s critical for patients and clinicians to understand the different causes of chest pain, Wei said. 

“Life-threatening causes of chest pain usually have to do with chest pain that is due to a heart condition or a lung condition,” said Wei.

Lung and heart-related causes of chest pain include serious, life-threatening conditions such as coronary artery disease, heart attack, cardiomyopathy – a condition in which the heart cannot pump blood properly throughout the body -- and pericarditis, which is caused when the sac around the heart becomes inflamed. Other causes include myocarditis, which is an inflammation of the heart muscle, a blockage of a primary artery in the lung, inflammation of the lining around the lung and pneumonia.

However, Wei said that the “majority of chest pain, whether it’s in the emergency room or in the doctor’s office is due to musculoskeletal chest pain.”

Musculoskeletal chest pain, Wei says, can be caused by inflammation of cartilage in the rib cage, fractures from trauma or osteoporosis, heartburn, gastroesophageal reflux disease, injury to the esophagus, a bad cough or panic attacks.

But when it comes to heart attacks, Wei told U.S. News & World Report that she wants women to know their symptoms may be different from men's symptoms. Women are more apt to experience nausea, jaw pain and debilitating fatique while men are more likely to experience tingling in their left arm and pain on the right side of the chest. 

And women who experience chest pain even though physicians assure them that tests show no blockages in the major heart arteries, should press their physicians for additional tests, Wei told U.S. News & World Report. A 2018 National Institutes of Health study led by Wei and investigators at the Barbra Streisand Women's Heart Center in the Smidt Heart Institute, showed that about 8% of women whose symptoms were ignored actually did have scars on their hearts that indicate they experienced a heart attack.

“This study proves that women need to be taken seriously when they complain of chest pain, even if they don't have the typical symptoms we see in men," said Wei. “Too often, these women are told they don't have a heart problem and they are sent home instead of receiving appropriate medical care.”

Click here to read the complete U.S. News & World Report article.

Read more on the Cedars-Sinai Blog: Shortness of Breath: When to See Your Doctor