Heart Attack, or Simply Chest Pain? What You Need to Know

By Dr. Molly Casey

Chest Pains

Heart attacks are scary -- and I’m not just talking about that Olivia Newton-John song. Heart attacks, the actual chest-squeezing event, are frightening because they are so common; any inkling of chest pain or pressure can send you into panic mode, wondering if you’re having a heart attack or not. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, heart disease is the No. 1 killer of men and women in the United States. Every 40 seconds, someone has a heart attack. When you experience chest pain or discomfort, it’s natural to wonder if you’re getting ready to become part of that statistic.

At The Joint Chiropractic, patient education is one of our priorities. Staying aware of the signs and symptoms of a heart attack is one way you can help to assuage your fears. Another way is to understand when a heart attack may not be a heart attack at all, but something related to your spine -- something a chiropractor can help you to identify and resolve.

The Heart Attack

Most people are under the impression that if you have a heart attack it’s like that scene from The Big Lebowski in which Donny collapses outside the bowling alley. If all heart attacks were that straightforward, then they wouldn’t have such a high mortality rate. Many heart attacks tend to start slowly, with mild discomfort or pain in the chest, which can result in people neglecting to get medical attention.

If you have any of these symptoms, you should seek medical attention right away:

  • Chest discomfort - Many heart attacks are characterized by a discomfort in the middle of the chest that lasts for longer than a few minutes. It can go away, then come back. You can also experience squeezing, pressure, and fullness along with pain.
  • Other discomforts - The chest isn’t the only place you might experience discomfort when having a heart attack. You may feel discomfort or pain in your stomach, neck, jaw, or back.
  • Shortness of breath - Unless you’ve just finished a workout or marathon, shortness of breath is a serious symptom. With a heart attack, you may not have chest discomfort along with it.
  • Other symptoms - Nausea, lightheadedness, and breaking out in a cold sweat are also serious symptoms that may indicate a heart attack.

If you or someone you’re with thinks they’re having a heart attack, don’t delay! Get to the emergency room immediately.

What Else Causes Chest Pain?

Chest pain can be caused by any structure in that general area of your body, including the spine. In fact, the chiropractors at The Joint see many patients with pain or discomfort in their chest that originates from their spine or rib cage. Always take chest pain seriously, but if it turns out not to be a heart attack and you don’t share the fate of Donnie in the parking lot of the Hollywood Star Lanes, you need to get to the bottom of what might be causing your issues -- and that’s where the chiropractor comes in handy!

How can your spine cause chest pain? The most common causes of spine-related chest pain are:

  • Spinal facet joints - Problems in this area can cause pain around the rib cage, made worse by moving your torso.
  • Spinal discs - If you have issues with your discs, sneezing, coughing, or moving can cause burning, tingling, or pain to shoot through your chest.
  • Back muscles - If you sit in one place for most of the day, such as at your computer, then you may experience muscle pain in your chest as a result.

What to Do

If you suspect a heart attack, get medical attention immediately. If a heart attack is ruled out and something is still causing you pain and discomfort, then talk to the chiropractors at The Joint today! Much like the Dude’s rug did for his living room, they can help you bring your whole healthcare picture together.

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