Chest Pain

Chest pain includes any discomfort felt in the front or back of the ribcage. Most chest pain is due to minor disorders such as muscle strain or indigestion. However, you should call an ambulance if you have a crushing pain in the centre or left side of your chest, if you are also short of breath or feel faint, or if the pain is unlike any pain you have had before.

  • What kind of pain are you experiencing?

    • Crushing

      Does the pain subside after you rest for a few minutes?

      • Pain subsides

        Have you had this kind of pain before?

        • Previous episodes of this kind of pain
          • Possible cause Recurrent chest pain could be an indication of angina, especially if pain in the chest occurs with exertion and disappears with rest.

            Medical help URGENT! Phone your doctor immediately!

        • Never before
          • Possible cause You may be having a heart attack (see Myocardial infarction).

            Medical help EMERGENCY! Dial 999/112 and ask for an ambulance.

      • Pain persists
        • Possible cause You may be having a heart attack (see Myocardial infarction).

          Medical help EMERGENCY! Dial 999/112 and ask for an ambulance.

    • Spreading from the centre of the chest to the neck, arms, or jaw

      Does the pain subside after you rest for a few minutes?

      • Pain subsides

        Have you had this kind of pain before?

        • Previous episodes of this kind of pain
          • Possible cause Recurrent chest pain could be an indication of angina, especially if pain in the chest occurs with exertion and disappears with rest.

            Medical help URGENT! Phone your doctor immediately!

        • Never before
          • Possible cause You may be having a heart attack (see Myocardial infarction).

            Medical help EMERGENCY! Dial 999/112 and ask for an ambulance.

      • Pain persists
        • Possible cause You may be having a heart attack (see Myocardial infarction).

          Medical help EMERGENCY! Dial 999/112 and ask for an ambulance.

    • Neither of the above

      Are you short of breath?

      • Short of breath

        Do any of the following apply?

        • You have recently had a surgical operation
          • Possible cause You may have a blood clot in the lung (see Pulmonary embolism).

            Medical help EMERGENCY! Dial 999/112 and ask for an ambulance.

        • You have recently been immobile due to injury or illness
          • Possible cause You may have a blood clot in the lung (see Pulmonary embolism).

            Medical help EMERGENCY! Dial 999/112 and ask for an ambulance.

        • You have had a baby within the past 2 weeks
          • Possible cause You may have a blood clot in the lung (see Pulmonary embolism).

            Medical help EMERGENCY! Dial 999/112 and ask for an ambulance.

        • None of the above

          Do you have a fever – a temperature of 38°C (100.4°F) or above?

          • Fever
            • Possible cause It is possible that you have a chest infection, such as pneumonia.

              Medical help URGENT! Phone your doctor immediately!

          • No fever
            • Possible cause There is a possibility that you have a partially collapsed lung (see Pneumothorax).

              Medical help URGENT! Phone your doctor immediately!

      • Not short of breath

        Is pain related to breathing?

        • Not related to breathing

          Does the pain have any of the following features?

        • Related to breathing

          Is the chest sore to touch?

          • Sore to touch

            Does either of the following apply?

            • You have had a chest injury
              • Possible cause Muscle strain and/or bruising is the most likely cause of your symptoms.

                Self-help Take a painkiller and rest for 24 hours. If the pain has not improved after this time, make an appointment to see your doctor.

            • You have been exercising
              • Possible cause Muscle strain and/or bruising is the most likely cause of your symptoms.

                Self-help Take a painkiller and rest for 24 hours. If the pain has not improved after this time, make an appointment to see your doctor.

            • Neither
              • If you cannot identify a possible cause for your chest pain from this chart, make an appointment to see your doctor.

          • Not sore to touch
            • Possible cause You may have pleurisy, particularly if you have a cough and/or fever.

              Medical help See your doctor within 24 hours.

From the 2010 revision of the Complete Home Medical Guide © Dorling Kindersley Limited.

The subjects, conditions and treatments covered in this encyclopaedia are for information only and may not be covered by your insurance product should you make a claim.

Back to top