When Should I Go to the ER for Chest Pain?

When should I go to the ER for chest pain, and when should I make a doctor’s appointment instead? The answer to this question depends on multiple factors, such as your symptoms, age, behavioral habits and family history. 

If you’re experiencing a medical emergency please don’t hesitate to call 911 for immediate medical attention. The best person to help you assess what is going on is your medical provider or an emergency department if it’s an acute need. 

The following advice should only serve as a guideline and to help facilitate a conversation with your healthcare provider for your unique situation. 

Do not get behind the wheel if you think you’re having a heart attack. Call 911 for immediate assistance or have someone drive you to the nearest Complete Care Emergency Room.

Common causes of chest pain

Not every instance of chest pain is related to heart disease or a heart attack, common, less serious chest pain causes include:

  • Pulling a muscle
  • Heartburn
  • Gas 
  • Acid reflux 
  • Allergies
  • Anxiety*

* If you know you are an anxious person or have been diagnosed with anxiety, try something to help you rule out a heart attack. If you can run up and down some stairs without abnormal shortness of breath, then you’re probably alright.

A common misconception is that heart attacks always occur suddenly. However, in reality, many patients have signs that something is wrong with their heart for weeks or even months before they actually have a cardiac event. 

Taking note of any mild symptoms and seeking medical guidance from a healthcare provider can help prevent areas of concern when it comes to heart health: worsening heart disease or heart attacks. In addressing your heart concerns with a provider, you can often answer the question of “should I go to the ER for chest pain?” with a little less worry.

The most common signs of a heart attack

Pain in your chest

A gradual onset of pain that lasts for a long amount of time is more likely to be a sign of a heart attack than a few seconds of a sharp stabbing pain. Heart attack chest pain also gradually diffuses outward with a constant pain in the middle.

Heart-attacks are often associated with a pain that is an intense pressure — almost like someone is sitting on your chest. This pain will go beyond an uncomfortable sensation of pressure, squeezing, or fullness. The pain can also radiate to your throat, jaw, or left arm. 

Sudden nausea, cold sweating or heat/flushing

Nausea, cold sweats, or intense sweating accompanied with chest pain should prompt you to take immediate medical attention and call 911 or get to the ER as quickly as possible. 

Shortness of breath that gets worse lying down

Feeling like you can’t catch your breath, especially if it gets worse with movement or exercise, can be a sign of a heart attack as well. The breathlessness also gets worse when you lie down and improves when sitting up, and is due to your heart not being able to pump enough blood to meet your body’s needs. 

Dizziness, lightheadedness or fainting

During a heart attack your brain gets less blood due to a drop in blood pressure. This drop in pressure can cause dizziness. 

Abnormal heartbeats

A feeling as if your heart beats are too fast or slow for what is typical can be an indication of heart disease or heart attack. If you have a history of heart disease, it is wise to invest in a device that monitors your heart rate so you can discuss what you’re experiencing with your healthcare provider.  

Risk factors for a heart attack

Some people are more likely to have a heart attack based on genetics and lifestyle. You should schedule an appointment with a cardiologist before a potential incident occurs if you have any of the following. 

  • High cholesterol
  • High blood pressure
  • Obesity
  • Addiction to smoking
  • Diabetes 
  • Family history of heart disease
  • You are over 40 years old

Signs you might not need an ER visit for chest pain 

How do I know if my chest pain is serious? It’s difficult to provide a definite set of signs and symptoms that indicate emergency treatment is necessary (or not). Anything that is out of the ordinary for you should be followed up with a healthcare provider as soon as possible.

Less serious signs of chest pain include:

  • Your pain lasted for a short period of time (e.g, quickly went away)
  • Your chest pain is not accompanied with any other symptoms
  • Your pain only occurs when you move a certain way
  • You were cleared by a medical professional when experiencing similar pain recently

What is the emergency room chest pain protocol? 

When you arrive at a healthcare facility, any symptom that sounds like it might be a heart attack will lead to a standard set of tests and examinations. The first thing done is an EKG upon your arrival at Complete Care to monitor for abnormalities. 

 The next step is an evaluation by a doctor who will review your medical history and current complaints (details about the location, duration, and intensity of your symptoms). 

A blood test will be ordered to look for other causes and to measure troponin, a protein that rises in response to heart muscle damage. Depending on your chief complaints, chest x-rays can also be ordered to look for alternative causes of chest pain, such as pneumonia.

Call 911 or visit your nearest Complete Care ER for help

Now that you know when you should go to the ER for chest pain, pay close attention to your symptoms. Seconds can save lives. 

The professional and patient-centered team at Complete Care is here to help you, whether it’s for chest pain or other emergencies. Our stand-alone facilities are fully equipped to handle the same emergencies as any ER attached to a hospital, but without the typical wait time. 

If you or someone you love is experiencing chest pain and aren’t sure what to do, visit our nearest location for fast and reliable treatment. No appointment, no wait.