Chest pain presents differently across individuals. Doctors may consider some symptoms typical and others atypical. For this reason, it is important to recognize a range of symptoms to avoid missing potential signs of a heart attack.
This article discusses the differences between atypical and typical chest pain, their potential causes, and diagnostic tests doctors may use to evaluate them. It also explores when to contact a doctor and answers common questions about atypical and typical chest pain.
However, because “atypical” symptoms of a heart attack present
A note about sex and gender
Sex and gender exist on spectrums. This article will use the terms “male,” “female,” or both to refer to sex assigned at birth. Click here to learn more.
Chest pain symptoms
According to the current terminology, atypical chest pain symptoms
- Intense pain in the upper abdominal area: This may involve discomfort in the location of the stomach, pancreas, and liver.
- Intense back pain: This may involve burning and stabbing sensations in the back.
- Severe indigestion-like pain: This may also involve burning and stabbing sensations.
Typical chest pain symptoms may include dull, heavy, tight, and crushing pain in the chest that can spread to the arm and jaw.
Research suggests females may experience atypical chest pain symptoms that indicate a heart attack more often than males.
Atypical and typical chest pain symptoms
- a pulmonary embolism
- pericarditis, which is inflammation of the membrane surrounding the heart
- pericardial tamponade, which is a fluid buildup, usually blood, on the heart
- a tear in the aorta
- acute coronary syndrome, which is any condition that reduces blood flow to the heart, such as a heart attack
Other conditions that may cause chest pain include:
The lists above are not exhaustive, and it is best for a person to speak with a healthcare professional if they experience any typical or atypical chest pain symptoms.
Anyone who suspects they are experiencing a heart attack or other life threatening condition or health event should seek medical attention immediately by calling 911.
When a person has either atypical or typical chest pain, a healthcare professional may ask for more details about the onset of the symptoms and their medical history. For example, they may ask what the person was doing when symptoms started.
- an EKG
- blood tests, such as a complete blood count or basic metabolic panel
- a chest X-ray
- a CT scan to look at blood vessels in the lungs
- an echocardiogram, which is an ultrasound of the heart
- a cardiovascular MRI
Experts suggest that healthcare professionals always consider a life threatening cause if a person has chest pain, for example, a heart attack or pulmonary embolism.
Due to atypical symptoms frequently occurring in females having heart attacks, it is important
When a person has chest pain, it is always best to speak with a doctor or healthcare professional. Chest pain can be acute or chronic, meaning it may come on suddenly or come and go over time.
Chronic chest pain, whether atypical or typical,
Sudden atypical or typical chest pain may be a sign of an immediately life threatening condition, such as a heart attack. In this case, a person will need to call 911.
Below are answers to some common questions about atypical and typical chest pain.
What is atypical chest pain?
What are the criteria for typical chest pain?
Typical chest pain
What are the atypical symptoms of a heart attack?
Atypical heart attack symptoms
- an irregular heart rate
- excessive sweating
- shortness of breath
- unusual fatigue
- pain in the abdomen or back, such as burning or stabbing sensations
Atypical and typical chest pain symptoms can indicate many conditions, some of which may be life threatening. During a heart attack, females tend to experience intense abdominal pain and back pain more frequently than typical symptoms such as tightness in the arm, jaw, and chest.
Because of this, the terms “atypical” and “typical” may not accurately describe the different types of chest pain. As what is atypical for males appears not to be for females, some researchers are now calling for separate diagnostic criteria for people of different sexes.