Almost all of us know at least someone who has suffered from heart disease in their lifetime. Sometimes we are told that grandpa had a weak heart. The other times we learn of an uncle who suffered a heart attack. That is not surprising, though. According to the WHO, almost one-third of all deaths globally are due to heart-related issues. In the developed world the percentage is even higher. Those are staggering numbers that should prompt all of us to do what we can to increase our understanding of the issue. We often see movie scenes where a seemingly healthy person suddenly starts breathing heavily, grabs his or her chest and falls dead moments later. That is probably what most people imagine when thinking about heart problems. Thankfully, such presentation is quite rare and there tends to be much more that can be done to prevent and treat those ailments. This article will be the first in a series about heart disease and will focus on some of the most common symptoms and warning signs of heart disease.
Of course, this is going to be the first cardiovascular symptom we are going to cover. Chest pain is as common as it is scary and it is, therefore, good to be aware of what features of chest pain are possibly alarming. An important factor in determining whether chest pain is serious and concerning or not is the nature of the pain, or its character. There are many ways in which pain can be described. Most commonly we use simple descriptions, such as dull, sharp, aching, tearing, etc. Another important feature is the duration of it and the circumstances in which it first occurred, and whether it can be reproduced. That being said, considering that there are many potentially life-threatening causes of chest pain, it is always better to be safe than sorry so if you ever suspect a pain you are experiencing may be caused by something serious, always ensure you seek medical help as soon as possible.
Dull pain or pressure
The heart is a muscle that contracts approximately 1.5 times each second we are alive. In order to perform such a demanding task, it requires plenty of energy. Generation of energy requires oxygen supplied by the blood. Imagine going to a gym and doing any of a number of available exercises. No matter how fit you are, as time goes on you will start feeling tired and your muscles will start to ache. The reason for that is that it becomes impossible to supply enough food and oxygen to the muscle to keep up with the demand. The heart is wired so that something like that doesn’t happen in a healthy organism. However, certain diseases can either increase the demand or decrease the supply of nutrients and oxygen and cause “tiring” of the heart muscle. Most commonly, it occurs when the blood vessels that supply the heart (the coronary vessels) get partially occluded and the oxygen and nutrient supply to the heart becomes significantly decreased. Such chest pain is usually described as deep pressure right in the middle of the chest that may feel like it’s radiating towards the jaw or the left arm. There are two important conditions that cause this type of chest pain: angina and heart attack.
The so-called cardiac angina is a condition in which supply to one region of the heart falls by over 70%. That is when the heart starts feeling the effects of exertion. It still gets enough oxygen to function well at rest, however, the supply is insufficient for an exercising heart. The pain tends to occur regularly when exercising and it goes away at rest. It’s annoying and frightening but rarely itself life-threatening.
The heart attack or the myocardial infarction, on the other hand, occurs when a blood clot completely blocks the supply to a region of the heart, making it unable to function even at rest. The pain occurs regardless of activity, lasts long and isn’t improved with rest. Because the heart is not getting enough oxygen to survive, it is a medical emergency and failing to restore the supply to the heart will eventually cause death of some of the heart muscle, which can have severe, life-threatening consequences. IF YOU SUSPECT WHAT YOU ARE EXPERIENCING MIGHT BE CAUSED BY A HEART ATTACK, GO TO THE EMERGENCY DEPARTMENT IMMEDIATELY.
sharp, Tearing pain
Many things can cause sharp, tearing, or stabbing chest pain. Overall, sharp pain is usually less concerning than dull pressure and is usually not caused by the heart itself, but by one of the surrounding organs or structures. That being said, it is good to have an idea of potentially dangerous causes of sharp pain in the middle of the chest, as well as what type of pain is usually benign.
It is important to note that by far the most common cause of sharp chest pain is muscular in nature. Yes, just as we can pull a muscle in our arm or leg, we can do so in our chest wall as well. Such pain often occurs following an activity, such as lifting heavy objects. It often increases with exercise and improves with rest. If the pain gets worse when we move or press the chest wall, it is most likely caused by a problem in the muscles.
Aorta is the largest artery in the human body that comes right out of the heart and passes close to the spine. As we age we tend to accumulate blood vessel damage that can affect the aorta as well. The pain caused by aortic damage is more often described as tearing, rather than stabbing and often feels like it radiates to the back. It is very sudden and cannot be properly relieved. Considering the size of the aorta and the amount of blood that passes through it, bleeding out from aortic damage can occur within minutes. Therefore, it is a medical emergency. IF YOU SUSPECT WHAT YOU ARE EXPERIENCING MIGHT BE CAUSED BY A DAMAGED AORTA, GO TO THE EMERGENCY DEPARTMENT IMMEDIATELY
Disclaimer: Reading this blog is not a substitute for regular medical check-ups. While every effort is made to ensure the quality of the information provided, it is not tailored to the needs of each individual patient and should therefore not be perceived as equivalent to a medical consultation. If you have any health-related questions, please talk to your doctor.