Atypical chest pain refers to chest pain where a person does not experience the typical diagnostic characteristics of chest pain.
Typically, there are
- chest discomfort or pain in the center of the chest
- pain that aggravates from stress or exertion
- finding that nitrates or rest help to relieve symptoms
This article reviews what atypical chest pain may feel like, its possible causes, and when to see a doctor.
Experts generally define atypical chest pain as any pain that does not have the same characteristics as typical chest pain.
Typical chest pain
- A person will have chest discomfort or pain in the center of their chest.
- Stress or exertion aggravates the pain.
- Nitrates or rest can relieve symptoms within a few minutes.
A doctor may diagnose a person with atypical chest pain if they only experience two of the three symptoms. This may indicate that a person does not have myocardial ischemia. This means that there is likely no full or partial blockage of blood flow to the heart.
A person may also feel:
- a sense of discomfort or pressure in the chest
- back pain or discomfort
- pain in the upper abdomen
Atypical chest pain has several potential causes, which can include cardiac (heart) related causes and noncardiac causes. They may include:
Gastrointestinal tract-related causes
Gastritis is inflammation in the stomach. It can cause discomfort or pain that occurs in the chest. It
Musculoskeletal chest pain
Certain medical conditions and injuries can cause atypical chest pain to occur.
Issues with the lungs
Less commonly, issues with the lungs can cause atypical chest pain to occur. Some possible causes include:
- Lung cancer: Lung cancers start in the lungs or bronchi. As a tumor grows, it can cause a person to experience atypical chest pain. It is a
leading causeof death and often occurs due to smoking.
- Pneumonia: Pneumonia
refersto several different bacteria, viruses, or fungi that infect the tissue of the lungs. It is a leading cause of death in the United States and can cause atypical chest pain and other symptoms.
- Pulmonary embolism: A pulmonary embolism occurs when a blot clot blocks blood flow to part of the lung. It
can causeseveral symptoms, including chest pain, to occur.
Cardiac related causes
Cardiac or heart-related conditions can also cause atypical chest pain to occur. Some possible underlying heart-related causes include:
- Myocarditis: Myocarditis refers to inflammation of the heart that is often the result of an infection. Though most common in younger people, anyone
may developthe condition.
- Heart valve disease: This condition
often affectsolder adults. Narrowing of the left ventricle during the release of blood into the aorta characterizes the condition. It can cause fatigue, chest pain, and other symptoms to occur.
- Pericarditis: The pericardial sac surrounds the heart and helps to provide some protection to the organ. Pericarditis refers to inflammation that affects the sac. Experts
considerit a common cause of chest pain, particularly in males.
- Heart attack: Also known as myocardial infarction, a heart attack occurs when blood flow to the heart stops. It can cause atypical chest pain and other symptoms, such as fatigue, nausea, and pain in other body areas.
People who present with atypical chest pain may be more likely to have a cardiac cause, such as a heart attack/myocardial ischemia, in certain conditions, such as diabetes.
Chest pain is typically something a person should take seriously if they do not know the underlying cause. Heart-related atypical chest pain
Signs a person may be having a heart attack
- chest pain or discomfort
- shortness of breath
- discomfort or pain in the shoulders or arms
- feeling faint, weak, or light-headed
- jaw, neck, or back pain
A person should call 911 if they experience symptoms that may signal a heart attack. The earlier treatment starts, the better a person’s chances of survival.
Atypical chest pain occurs when the symptoms do not match the diagnostic criteria of typical chest pain.
Several conditions can cause atypical chest pain including heart, lung, and gastrointestinal issues. Heart-related causes can be life threatening. A person should seek immediate medical attention if they experience signs of a heart attack, such as chest pain, nausea, or pain in the shoulders or arms.