Chest pain can be caused by a variety of things. It could be due to a relatively benign condition such as acid reflux, or it could be due to more concerning heart problems. Because doctors and medical professionals are unable to look beneath the skin on first presentation, they often have to make a judgment call. They need to guess whether your chest pain is due to a potentially fatal heart condition.
Chest pain has many causes
Chest pain is one of the most common reasons people go to the emergency room. They often feel a sharp, stabbing, or squeezing pain in their chest. But these symptoms could be produced by other parts of the body that make us think the heart is the cause. Various origins of non-heart related chest pain include:
- Digestive causes: This may include heartburn, swallowing disorder, and gallbladder or pancreas problems.
- Muscle or bone causes: Including sore muscles, rib injuries, and costochondritis (inflammation of the cartilage in the rib cage, leading to pain).
- Lung-related causes: Including pulmonary embolism, collapsed lung, and pulmonary hypertension.
- Other: Panic attacks and shingles infections leading to blisters that can cause pain.
Typically, when the symptoms of chest pain arise, your doctor will likely take a blood test to see if specific markers for cardiac muscle damage are present. This is a standard of care procedure whenever the origin of the chest pain is unknown.
New test proving to be useful
A study in Sweden evaluated the impact that these screening tests have on chest pain patients when using the “high sensitivity troponin T” assay—a marker for cardiac muscle damage. They found that the risk of suffering a serious cardiovascular event within 30 days of returning home was much lower when using this new method of diagnosis.
Before this test, those who suffered unidentifiable chest pain were simply sent home, with the assumption that it was not heart-related. However, in some cases, these individuals end up having a heart attack.
While testing for cardiac biomarkers is nothing new, the introduction of this new, more sensitive assay has been used in Swedish hospital for the last couple of years.
The use of high-sensitivity troponin T has been associated with a lower incidence of cardiovascular events and an improvement in the risk profile for patients released from emergency clinics with unspecified chest pain.