VCS Blog

When to See a Cardiologist for Chest Tightness

By: Dr. Christopher S.Thomas

The terms “chest pain” and “chest tightness” are often used interchangeably, but mean different things. Chest tightness usually means a heaviness or ache, while chest pain often takes on a more “pins and needles” feeling. It’s important to understand when to make an appointment with a cardiologist if you think you may be experiencing chest tightness.

Common causes of chest tightness can include:

● Coronary disease. This is a blockage or hardening of the arteries that occurs when fats and cholesterol build up in the artery walls. This build-up, called plaque, can cause tightness, pain, and impede heart muscle function.
● Congestive heart failure. This is a backup of fluid in the lungs that occurs when the heart muscle doesn’t pump as much blood or relax as much as it needs to. This results in chest tightness and shortness of breath.
● Pericarditis. Pericarditis is a swelling of the pericardium, a membrane that surrounds the heart. Episodes of pericarditis are usually short-lived, and are often the result of viruses.
● Non-heart-related reasons. There are many other conditions that may cause chest tightness, including asthma, pneumonia, blood clots, acid reflux, gall bladder issues, pulled muscles, anxiety disorders, and more.

What Doctors Look For Regarding Chest Tightness

There are several common symptoms patients describe that doctors consider cause for concern. These typically include:
● Chest tightness when exerting oneself
● Worsening chest pain or tightness than previously experienced
● Chest tightness with a reduced level of activity
● Developing other symptoms with tightness, such as cold sweats, nausea, dizziness or passing out

If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, you should see a doctor, because you could have a worsening condition. If you have heart disease, it could be progressing, or blockages that weren’t previously causing symptoms are now bad enough to cause them.

When to See a Heart Specialist

There’s no “magic number” to tell people when exactly they need to see a doctor for chest tightness. If you know you get heartburn with a heavy meal, or with drinking alcohol, and experience these same symptoms when exerting yourself, it may simply be heartburn. If you’ve recently done activities that are out of the norm for you (such as pushups or heavy lifting), you may have strained your pectoral muscles, which can also cause chest tightness.

But if you feel the activities you need to do in your daily life have been limited by your symptoms, or are inhibiting your quality of life, see a doctor.

When you do consult a doctor about your chest tightness, the following information can help them with your diagnosis:
● When you experienced chest tightness, what were you doing, how did it feel, what happened during the episode?
● Blood pressure numbers or other vitals like cholesterol, etc.

Patients who bring in documentation of their blood pressure can sometimes avoid be putting on medication. Some patients, due to anxiety or other circumstances, have higher blood pressure in the doctor’s office than at home. Knowing your numbers and having them ready for your doctor could make a difference in your treatment.

If you’re experiencing chest tightness and are worried about your symptoms, don’t continue to worry. Contact VCS to request an appointment and get an evaluation.

Published June 14, 2019

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