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Take Heart: Here Are Three Major Causes Of Chest Pain That Are NOT Cardiac-Related

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If you've been experiencing chest pain and your doctor has ruled out heart-related problems as a possible cause, your pain may be because of another non-cardiac related issue. An examination and tests may point to anything from pneumonia to acid reflux. Here are three major causes of chest pain that are not directly connected with heart problems:

1. Pneumonia

Pneumonia affects the lungs and respiratory system, causing inflammation, cough and sometimes chest discomfort or pain. It is often caused by a virus or bacteria. Along with the chest pain and cough, one might experience fever and general malaise. If the infection affects both lungs, it is referred to as double pneumonia.

As the lung or lungs become inflamed and the air sacs fill with fluid or pus, chest pain or pressure may be felt. This discomfort may be mild or severe, lasting a week or more. If your physician suspects pneumonia after listening to your chest sounds through a stethoscope, he or she will typically order chest x-rays. This will allow the doctor to see the structures of your chest, heart and lungs, looking for possible signs of inflammation and fluid retention. In addition, a blood culture may be ordered to determine if you have a bacterial infection.

Treatment of pneumonia includes bed rest, antibiotics to treat a bacterial form of pneumonia and pain relievers to help ease chest pain. Cough medicine may also be prescribed. Some individuals, especially the elderly or those with weakened immune systems, may require hospitalization. The doctor will determine the best course of treatment for pneumonia and subsequent chest pain.

2. Acid Reflux or Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD)

Acid reflux and the more severe form known as GERD, are gastrointestinal disorders that commonly cause heartburn and chest pain. Acid reflux occurs when acid from the stomach back-flows into the foodpipe, otherwise known as the esophagus. This back-flow of acid is what commonly causes the pain. Left unchecked, acid reflux may progress into the more serious form of reflux known as GERD. Common causes of acid reflux include:

  • Overeating or consuming large meals

  • Lying down after eating a large meal

  • Consuming spicy foods or foods high in fat

In some cases, mild and occasional acid reflux symptoms may be eliminated by modifying one's diet and habits. Over-the-counter antacids may ease mild chest discomfort as well. When GERD has been diagnosed, prescription drugs to prohibit the production of stomach acid may provide relief.

When the above methods do not help, surgery may be necessary. During the surgical procedure, the goal is to tighten the esophageal sphincter, so stomach acid does not back up and cause further tissue damage to the esophagus. Surgery is often the last option to be considered.

3. Muscle Strain

If your chest muscles have been pulled or strained from physical exertion, you may experience a degree of discomfort and pain. The muscles in your chest are known as pectoral muscles, and they may become strained by lifting heavy objects or sports injury.

Strained muscles sometimes mimic symptoms of a heart attack, prompting the individual to rush to the hospital emergency room for treatment. However, if your chest pain has been caused by muscle strain or pulled chest muscles, you may experience swelling or the inability to freely move your shoulder or arm. Pectoral strain is often diagnosed through an examination or digital imaging tests. Treatment may include rest, the use of pain relievers and heat to relieve the pain, or in some cases, physical rehabilitation to restore strength and mobility.

If you experience chest pain and shortness of breath, you should seek immediate medical attention. Although the cause of your pain may not be cardiac-related, it's best to err on the side of caution. Emergency room physicians will determine whether your situation warrants immediate treatment.