How do you know when you need medical help for chest pain? It's not always easy to tell. If you're not sure why your chest hurts, it's best to check it out. Getting help for a heart attack or lung injury could save your life.

Ask Yourself: Yes No
Do you have any of these problems along with the chest pain:
  • Pain that spreads to the arm, neck or jaw
  • Pressure, especially on your left side
  • Shortness of breath or trouble breathing
  • Nausea and/or vomiting
  • Sweating
  • Uneven pulse or heartbeat
  • Sense of doom
  • Seek emergency care Go to next question
    Did the chest pain come because you were injured badly? Does it hurt all the time and/or is it getting worse? Seek emergency care Go to next question
    Do you have a history of heart problems or angina? Has your prescribed medicine stopped working? Have you had an operation or illness that has kept you in bed recently? Seek emergency care Go to next question
    Is there trouble breathing along with the chest pain? Does it get worse when you touch your chest or ribs? See doctor Go to next question
    Do you have any of these problems:
  • Fever
  • Coughing up something of any color (pink, green, gray- yellow, etc.)
  • See doctor Go to next question
    Do you have any of these problems with the chest pain:
  • Palpitations
  • Light-headedness
  • Dizziness, feeling faint
  • Fatigue
  • Anxiety
  • A heart murmur heard by a health care provider
  • See doctor Go to next question
    Has the chest pain lasted longer than two days? See doctor Go to next question
    Do you have belching and/or burning just above your stomach? Does it come and go before, during or after eating? Does it get worse when you bend or sit down? Does the chest pain stop with antacids? See doctor Go to next question
    Is the chest pain only on one side and does it stay the same when you breathe? And do you have a burning feeling and a skin rash in the same place as the chest pain? Call doctor Provide self-care
    (see below)

    Self-Care Procedures:

    For a pulled muscle or small injury to your ribs:

    • Don't strain the muscle or ribs when they hurt.
    • Rest.
    • Take aspirin, acetaminophen, ibuprofen or naproxen sodium for the pain. Note: Do not give aspirin or any medication containing salicylates to anyone 19 years of age or younger, unless directed by a physician, due to its association with Reye's syndrome, a potentially fatal condition.
    • Call your doctor if the pain lasts more than two days.

    For a hiatal hernia (a condition in which part of your stomach pushes up through your diaphragm):

    • Lose weight if you are overweight.
    • Eat five or six small meals a day instead of three large ones.
    • Avoid tobacco, alcohol, coffee, spicy foods, peppermint, chocolate, citrus juices and carbonated beverages.
    • Take antacids when you have heartburn and before you go to bed.
    • Don't eat foods or drink milk two hours before going to bed.
    • Don't bend over or lie down after eating.
    • Don't wear tight clothes, tight belts or girdles.
    • Raise the upper half of your bed three to four inches.

    For anxiety and hyperventilation: Some people get chest pain when they feel anxious. Hyperventilation is when you breathe too much air into your lungs.

    • Try to stay away from people and things that upset you.
    • Talk about your anxiety with family, friends or clergy. (You may want to see a counselor or psychiatrist if this doesn't help.)
    • Don't take too much aspirin or other drugs that have salicylates.
    • Cover your mouth and nose loosely with a paper bag when you hyperventilate. Breathe in and out at least 10 times. Take the bag away and try breathing normally. Repeat breathing in and out of the bag if you need to.

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    Copyright © 1996 Don R. Powell, Ph.D. From The American Institute for Preventive Medicine's Self-Care: Your Family Guide to Symptoms and How to Treat Them, by arrangement with People«s Medical Society.

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