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You may experience chest pain for a variety of reasons, including common conditions like heartburn to more severe situations like a heart attack.

photo of man with chest pain

At University of Missouri Health Care Heart and Vascular Center, our expert cardiologists quickly determine the cause of your chest pain and create a personalized treatment plan that works for you.

If you are having a heart attack, MU Health Care offers fast heart attack care that follows that latest research and guidance. Our experienced team clears blockages in arteries that cause heart attacks within 47 minutes of your arrival at the hospital, far quicker than the national goal of 90 minutes. This efficient heart attack care helps prevents further heart damage and saves lives.

Causes of chest pain

If you experience chest pain, also called angina, you should always see a physician to determine the cause, since it can be a sign of heart problems.

Heart problems that cause chest pain include:

Chest pain may not be related to heart problems at all. It may also be caused by:

  • Chest wall pain in the muscles or bones of the chest
  • Costochondritis, an inflammation near the breastbone
  • Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), often called “heartburn”
  • Pleurisy, an inflammation in the tissue covering the lungs
  • Upper respiratory infection caused by a virus

Diagnosis of chest pain

Only a physician can determine the cause of your chest pain. To check for heart problems related to chest pain, your physicians may order tests including:

  • Electrocardiogram (ECG). An electrocardiogram uses tiny electrodes attaches to your chest to monitor the electrical activity of your heart. It is a painless test that can reveal major heart problems.
  • Echocardiogram (ECHO). An echocardiogram uses ultrasound technology to create a moving image of the heart. Your doctor can watch your heart as it beats to identify problems with heart function.
  • Stress tests. During a stress test, you are asked to exercise until your heart reaches a certain heart rate. Throughout the test, a technician monitors your heart rate, blood pressure and breathing. You may also have an electrocardiogram during or after a stress test.

At MU Health Care, we offer advanced cardiac imaging that uses no radiation. We are the only hospital in mid-Missouri to offer magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) of the heart, including MRI stress tests. These noninvasive tests help reduce your exposure to radiation, which can be especially beneficial to patients who need multiple heart imaging tests.

Chest pain and heart attack

Many people worry that their chest pain may be a sign of a heart attack. If you are experiencing a heart attack, you may or may not experience chest pain.

You might also experience:

  • Fast or irregular heartbeat
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Pain, pressure or a strange feeling in your back, neck, jaw, upper belly, shoulders or arms
  • Shortness of breath
  • Sudden weakness or lightheadedness
  • Sweating

If you are having these symptoms, you should call 911 right away. Calling an ambulance helps you receive faster care since paramedics can identify a heart attack and begin treatment before you arrive at the hospital. Paramedics also alert the heart attack team at MU Health Care so our experienced physicians and nurses are ready and waiting to care for you.