7 Scary Chest Pains You Might Mistake for a Heart Attack

Chest pains can be scary, understandably—and you should definitely call 911 if you think you're in cardiac arrest—but some types of chest pains may have nothing at all to do with your heart.



Severe heartburn may cause a person to wonder in a panic, “Am I having a heart attack?” The symptoms may be confusing, and if you have any doubt, call 911. If, however, you are not at risk for heart attack, and you have reason to believe that the pain you are experiencing is from acid in your esophagus, try taking an antacid. This should soothe the burning pain of indigestion. These are the foods and drinks that can trigger heartburn or make it worse. And here’s a cheat sheet to tell the difference between heartburn and a heart attack.



Another possible cause of chest pain is shingles, according to Kristine Arthur, MD, an internist at Orange Coast Memorial Medical Center in Fountain Valley, California. Shingles, which are a resurgence of the chicken pox virus in the body, can cause severe pain that radiates around one side of the rib cage. Usually there is a significant rash, however, in some cases, it’s so small that people may not see it. According to Dr. Arthur, “You should suspect shingles if the pain follows the line of a rib and if there are any type of skin changes along the area that hurt. It is almost always only on one side.” These are the shingles symptoms you could be ignoring.



Typically, pancreatitis causes abdominal pain, according to Medicine Net, but pain from pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas, a long flat gland behind the stomach), can radiate into the chest, causing the sufferer to think that the problem is heart-related. You’ll need a medical workup to determine the cause of the pain, as blood work and medical imaging can help your doctor make the proper diagnosis. Here are silent signs it could be pancreatic cancer.


Panic attack

Many times a person believing they are having a heart attack is in fact having a panic attack, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America. Tightening of the chest, heart palpitations, sweaty palms, lightheadedness—these are all symptoms of both. For people suffering from panic disorders, it is a good idea to have a doctor evaluate your heart health, so the next time a panic attack occurs, you will know how to address it without worrying that you’re having a heart attack. Regardless, if there is any doubt during such an attack, go to the ER. Here’s what it’s really like to live with anxiety.



Another possible cause of chest pain that is not a heart attack is costochondritis. According to Dr. Arthur, this is a condition where the cartilage between the ribs becomes inflamed. “The pain can be very sharp and hurt if you take a deep breath. Although it can be present on both sides, it is usually worse on one side,” Dr. Arthur says. A good way to tell if your chest pain may be costochondritis is to lift your arms above your head and see if the pain gets worse, versus heart attack pain, which will persist regardless of motion. These are the silent signs you could actually be having a heart attack.



Lung issues, including pneumonia, may also mimic heart attack symptoms. Nicole Weinberg, MD, a cardiologist at Providence Saint John’s Hospital in Santa Monica, California, says “fluid issues can cause chest pain and pressure, which causes people to think heart attack.” According to Dr. Weinberg, patients seek medical attention from cardiologists first and foremost, and having a workup of the heart can be helpful in addressing lung issues as well. Check these signs that an upper respiratory infection is actually pneumonia.


Stomach ulcers

Because pain can radiate from the stomach to the chest, the pain of stomach ulcers may manifest as chest pain, according to The Cleveland Clinic. “Anything from the mouth down to the stomach can be the cause of chest pains,” Dr. Weinberg says. Your physician will need to evaluate you in order to determine whether or not your chest pains are from ulcers, but if you have a history of stomach ulcers, this is a likely cause.

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