Practice Logo

Chest Pain: Is It Ever Normal?

Dec 05, 2023
Chest Pain: Is It Ever Normal?
Chest pain can have causes that span a wide range of conditions, from minor to severe. A healthcare provider can ensure your chest pain is appropriately diagnosed and treated.

Heart disease is the No. 1 cause of death in the United States, with heart attacks striking more than 800,000 people each year. Given this fact, it’s perfectly normal to feel concerned when chest pain strikes.

The good news is most chest pain is harmless and resolves on its own. However, there are signs you should never ignore with chest pain. When in doubt, visit a healthcare provider.

The skilled team at Central Park West Physicians on New York City’s Upper West Side provides top-quality primary and internal medicine. We take a comprehensive approach to investigating and diagnosing chest pain.

While a heart attack is the first thought that comes to mind for many people who experience unexplained chest pain, there are often non-life-threatening explanations. 

Chest pain without heart involvement

Chest discomfort isn't always a sign of heart issues. Often, it originates from unrelated conditions, including:

  • Muscle strains or bruised ribs
  • Heartburn and acid reflux symptoms
  • Gastritis
  • Respiratory conditions like asthma and bronchitis
  • Digestive issues such as gallstones or stomach ulcers
  • Psychological factors, including panic attacks
  • Lung infections like pneumonia

The nature of this pain differs from that experienced during a heart attack, but distinguishing them can be difficult if the sensation is new to you. Our team can accurately identify the root cause of your discomfort.

Heart-related chest pain

Several cardiac conditions can lead to chest pain. Here are a few common issues:

Coronary artery disease

CAD is the most common type of heart disease. It occurs when fatty deposits block coronary arteries. That causes arteries to narrow, making it more difficult for your heart to circulate blood throughout the body.


This condition involves inflammation of the heart muscles, potentially leading to arrhythmias, fatigue, and swelling in the legs, alongside chest pain. Viral infections can make myocarditis worse, causing fever and joint pain.


This condition is characterized by inflammation around the heart, often causing sharp or stabbing pain that may intensify with actions like lying down or swallowing.

Heart valve disease 

Symptoms of heart valve disease can develop slowly or progress quickly. HVD occurs when one of the heart’s valves doesn’t work properly. That can lead to symptoms like chest pain, abdominal swelling, dizziness, and irregular heartbeat.

Aortic dissection 

An aortic dissection is a rare but severe condition where the aorta’s inner layers tear, causing intense chest or back pain, shortness of breath, and even loss of consciousness. It’s an emergency situation requiring immediate medical intervention.


Angina is a consequence of arteries that are narrow or partially blocked. This type of chest pain often happens during physical activity, when the heart must increase the demand for oxygenated blood. Angina usually subsides with rest. 

When to worry about chest pain

Understanding when chest pain is a cause for concern is crucial for timely medical intervention.

Certain characteristics of chest pain are red flags you shouldn’t ignore. If the pain is sudden, severe, and accompanied by pressure or a squeezing sensation in the chest, it could signal a heart attack. 

Similarly, chest pain that radiates to other areas such as the arms, back, neck, jaw, or stomach, especially if coupled with shortness of breath, dizziness, or cold sweats, requires urgent care. These symptoms might also be accompanied by nausea or vomiting. 

Another red flag is chest pain that intensifies with physical activity or doesn’t subside with rest, as that can be a sign of serious cardiac issues.

Additionally, chest pain that’s new, different from previous heart pain (if you have a history of heart problems), or lasts longer than a few minutes should never be ignored.

That’s especially true for individuals with risk factors such as a family history of heart disease, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, obesity, or a history of smoking. 

Getting to the root of your chest pain

Call us at our Manhattan office or request an appointment online today to get to the root of what’s causing your chest pain.