1. Health
Send to a Friend via Email

Chest Pain Symptoms

How to Assess Chest Pain and Symptoms Associated with Chest Pain

By

Updated January 24, 2014

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

Chest pain is a symptom rather than a condition, but depending on the cause of the chest pain, it can feel very different and be associated with other signs and symptoms.

The worst-case scenario with chest pain is often a heart attack. With that in mind, here are the most common symptoms of heart attack associated with chest pain:

Assessing Chest Pain

Paramedics and doctors use a standard method to assess chest pain and any other pain that comes on without an obvious reason (pain from getting kicked in the chest by a horse is completely different than pain that comes on mysteriously while you're watching TV). We use the mnemonic OPQRST to help us assess the chest pain and identify what's causing it.

  • Onset. How did the pain start? Did it come on suddenly or gradually over time? Pain from a heart attack is likely to come on suddenly, while pain from a lung infection is more gradual.

  • Provocation. What provokes the pain? Is it worse when you move or take a deep breath? Is it worse if you press on your chest? Does anything make it feel better? Pain from lung infections like pneumonia tend to hurt worse when you take a deep breath or cough. Muscle pain is usually tender to movement, touch and breathing. Heart-related pain is often constant and doesn't respond to movement or breathing.

  • Quality. What does the pain feel like? Is it sharp or dull? Pleurisy is often sharp or stabbing, and heart pain is commonly described as a pressure or squeezing feeling.

  • Radiation. Does the pain go anywhere, or does it stay in one spot? Heart pain may or may not go anywhere other than the center of the chest, but it is often described as radiating up to the neck and jaw or to the left arm. Heart pain can also radiate to the right arm or the back as well.

  • Severity. How bad is the pain on a scale of 1 to 10? There's no minimum pain level to be related to the heart. We ask pain victims to describe how bad the pain is so we can tell if our treatment makes the pain better or worse (or doesn't change it).

  • Time. How long have you had the pain? Time is heart muscle, so the longer the victim has had chest pain, the more likely whatever damage is done to the heart will remain permanent.

©2014 About.com. All rights reserved.

We comply with the HONcode standard
for trustworthy health
information: verify here.