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Sudden Chest Pain

Q: While I was watching television last week, I hopped up during the commercial break to grab a snack and was stopped dead by a searing pain in my chest. It felt like several, repeated jolts of electricity were shooting right into my heart, and the more I tried to breathe deeply and ease the pain, the more it hurt. But then, about 40 seconds later, the pain just subsided and hasn't returned. I don't think it was a heart attack, but what else could it be?

Dr. Donnica: There are many different causes of sudden onset of chest pain; a heart attack is one of the most serious, but far from the most common. It's impossible to tell you what caused your pain, but I do recommend that you discuss this with your physician, especially if you have any risk factors for heart disease. These include: having a family history of heart disease, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, a sedentary lifestyle, a history of smoking, being a man over 40 or a menopausal woman, or being overweight.

What you described sounds like angina, one of the most common forms of cardiac related chest pain. Angina refers to a sudden intense chest paint, often accompanied by feelings of suffocation, caused by momentary lack of adequate blood supply to the heart muscle. Your doctor may want to do several tests including a cardiogram or a stress test to evaluate this possibility. Other possibilities include everything from a vasospasm to a muscle spasm, numerous other cardiac or respiratory causes, or even sudden severe indigestion (although that would have been more likely after the snack!). If it happens again, please contact your physician immediately.

Created: 10/25/2003  -  Donnica Moore, M.D.

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