How can I tell if a pain in my chest is a danger sign?

Dr. Jeanne Morrison, PhD
Family Practitioner

The cause of heart birth defects are not entirely known, so risk factors are not certain. However, several are suspected. Genetics is thought to play a role, so families that have relatives with heart defects or other genetic syndromes may be at a higher risk. In addition, a pregnant mother with rubella or diabetes may affect the growth of her baby's heart. Lastly, certain medications have been known to cause heart birth defects, so tell your doctor what you are taking if you are pregnant or plan to become pregnant.

You may be having a heart attack if you have any or all of the following symptoms:

  • The pain associated with a heart attack can range from discomfort to an unbearable crushing sensation in the chest. 
  • The person may describe it as pressure, squeezing, tightness, aching or heaviness in the chest. 
  • Many heart attacks start slowly as mild pain or discomfort.
  • Often the person feels pain or discomfort in the center of the chest. 
  • The pain or discomfort becomes constant. It usually is not relieved by resting, changing position or taking medication. 
  • Some individuals may show no signals at all.

All heart attacks are not created equal -- some cause more chest pain than others. In this video, I will talk about heart attack severity versus chest pain intensity.

Dr. Mehmet Oz, MD
Cardiologist (Heart Specialist)

If you get a pain in your chest after exercising, and it goes away in a few minutes, is it a danger sign? Watch the video to learn more from Dr. Oz about how to tell if a pain in your chest is a danger sign.

Dr. Daniel L. West, MD
Cardiologist (Heart Specialist)

Pain in your chest is a danger sign if it is accompanied by cold sweats, nausea, vomiting, anxiety and unexplained fatigue. These symptoms tend to vary based on gender, age and other health issues. If one of these symptoms is present along with the discomfort, then you should really suspect a heart attack is occurring.

Heart attack symptoms vary, and are often not as crushing or dramatic as people might imagine. Without rapid action the odds of fatality increase. The biggest misconception people have is that a heart attack is a severe pain. It can be mild discomfort like a burning in the chest. Also, people think if it's not happening on the left side, it's not a heart attack. That's another big misconception. Many people describe the discomfort as the feeling of someone standing on their chest.

Dr. Dede Bonner
Health Education Specialist

Indigestion can be a burning pain, and angina is severe chest pain. Both may feel like a heart attack, but neither is likely to spread to other parts of the body. Pain shooting down your arms, especially if you don’t normally suffer from indigestion or pain, may be the sign of a heart attack.

Ask your doctor to explain the warning signs of a heart attack and more details about how to tell the difference between angina or indigestion and a heart attack. Then tell your family members what your doctor said.

If you are in any doubt, don’t hesitate to call 911 immediately, not your doctor’s office. It’s better to have a false alarm than not live to be embarrassed by it.

The 10 Best Questions for Recovering from a Heart Attack: The Script You Need to Take Control of Your Health

More About this Book

The 10 Best Questions for Recovering from a Heart Attack: The Script You Need to Take Control of Your Health

A good mind knows the right answers, but a great mind knows the right questions. And never are the Best Questions more important than after the life-altering event of surviving a heart attack or being diagnosed with heart disease. Drawing on cutting-edge research and advice from internationally prominent cardiologists, the president of the American Heart Association, award-winning personal trainers and nutritionists, and experts in healthy lifestyles, smoking cessation, alcohol abuse, stress management, spirituality, relationships, sex, and financial planning, The 10 Best Questions™ for Recovering from a Heart Attack is a holistic guide you'll take with you into your doctor's office and keep close to you through every step of your treatment and recovery. With a wealth of resources and up-to-the-minute information, The 10 Best Questions™ for Recovering from a Heart Attack shows you and your family how to move beyond your fears and use the power of the Best Questions and Magic Questions (the smartest questions most people never think to ask) to become your own best advocate for your physical, emotional, mental, spiritual, and financial health.
Deb Cordes
Deb Cordes on behalf of Sigma Nursing
Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation Specialist

It is hard to tell if chest pain is or is not a heart attack. It is wise to seek medical attention if the pain or discomfort last more then 5 minutes. If a person also experiences shortness of breath, sweating, nausea, vomiting,or lightheadedness then it would be important to call 911 and seek immediate medical attention. When a person is having a heart attack it is important to receive medical attention immediately.

Continue Learning about Heart Attack

Heart Attack Symptoms
Heart Attack Symptoms
Every year about 805,000 Americans have a myocardial infarction (MI), better known as a heart attack. That’s one every 40 seconds. The American Heart ...
Read More
How can I tell the difference between heartburn and a heart attack?
Dr. Mehmet Oz, MDDr. Mehmet Oz, MD
You may not know if heartburn is a heart attack in disguise. People with heartburn can be having a h...
More Answers
6 Surprising Heart Attack Triggers
6 Surprising Heart Attack Triggers6 Surprising Heart Attack Triggers6 Surprising Heart Attack Triggers6 Surprising Heart Attack Triggers
Learn how the weather, road rage or the big game can spell trouble for your ticker.
Start Slideshow
What Are the Symptoms of a Heart Attack in Women?
What Are the Symptoms of a Heart Attack in Women?

Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.