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Heart & Vascular

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Chest Pain

Chest pain is one of the most common reasons people call 911 for emergency medical help and go to the emergency room. Having chest pains can be very frightening. Most of us think that any chest pain means that someone is having a heart attack. In fact, chest pain can happen for many different reasons.

Chest pain should never be taken lightly, that's why the WakeMed system features two accredited Chest Pain Centers. One at Raleigh Campus and one at Cary Hospital.

What Causes Chest Pain?

Chest pain has many possible causes, all of which deserve medical attention. The causes of chest pain fall into two major categories, cardiac and non-cardiac causes.

  • Angina: Fatty deposits can build up in the arteries that carry blood to your heart, narrowing them and restricting blood flow to your heart. Angina is chest pain caused by a temporary loss of blood to the heart muscle. It can be brought on with exercise, emotion, eating, especially heavy meals or exposure to extreme hot or cold temperatures. It usually goes away within minutes after stopping the stressful activity, and there is no damage to the heart muscle.
  • Heart Attack: A heart attack may seem to happen suddenly, but it is usually the result of a slow build-up of fat and cholesterol that narrows the coronary arteries. A blood clot can form in the narrowed artery, keeping blood from getting to the heart muscle. Without a blood supply, the heart muscle begins to die causing pain, pressure, fullness, tightness or burning in the chest. The pain may radiate to the back, shoulders, neck and arms or the shoulders, arms or wrists may feel numb. Other symptoms include dizziness, shortness of breath, faintness, breaking out in cold sweats, sick on stomach and vomiting or changes in the heart's rhythm. Women have these symptoms, but also may experience flulike symptoms and feelings of anxiety.
  • Coronary Artery Spasm: A coronary artery spasm temporarily closes the blood flow to the heart. Spasm of the coronary arteries may occur spontaneously or be triggered by a stimulant such as nicotine, caffeine or chemicals.
  • Mitral Valve Prolapse: A valve in your heart (the mitral valve) does not open and close smoothly.

Other causes of chest pain include inflammation of the sac surrounding the heart, called pericarditis and problems with the heart valves.

Other reasons for chest pain include the following:

  • Heartburn
  • Asthma
  • Peptic Ulcer
  • Bronchitis, Pneumonia
  • Stress
  • Panic Attack
  • Anxiety
  • Pleurisy
  • Blood Clot in the Lung
  • Sore Muscles
  • Injury to Your Chest or Rib
  • Pinched Nerve

Chest Pain Centers      Chest Pain Centers 2
Two Certified Chest Pain Centers
at WakeMed Raleigh Campus
& WakeMed Cary Hospital

If chest pain worsens, lasts more than five minutes - especially when accompanied by weakness, feeling faint, shortness of breath, sick on stomach and sweating - call 911. You could be having a heart attack. Speedy treatment often means not only the difference between life and death, but also between disability and a return to an active lifestyle after a heart attack.

Do not drive yourself to emergency room. Call 911 for help immediately if you feel any of the following:

  • Pain, squeezing, fullness or discomfort in the chest that lasts for several minutes. Symptoms can go away and come back.
  • Pain that radiates to other parts of the body, such as the arms, neck, back or jaw.
  • Shortness of Breath
  • Sweating, sick on stomach or dizziness
  • Women may have more subtle symptoms, such as atypical chest pain, nausea, nervousness, and swelling in the ankles or legs




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