Although we usually think of chest pain in relation to heart problems, there are many other non-heart-related conditions that can cause chest pain, such as:
• Gastric reflux (heartburn) – a painful burning sensation behind the breastbone. Heartburn usually follows a meal and may last for several hours.
• Pinched or irritated nerve – When nerves from the neck that go into the chest are pinched or irritated, it can cause chest pain.
• Muscle strain or spasm – A pulled muscle or a muscle spasm in the chest or back areas can cause chest pain. It's not unusual for this to happen in a condition like fibromyalgia.
• Gallbladder or pancreas problems – Usually there is acute abdominal pain that may radiate to the chest, but in some cases, there is chest pain only.
• Pleurisy – an inflammation of the membrane that lines the chest cavity. Chest pain from pluersy is usually sharp and gets worse when the person coughs or inhales.
• Costochondritis – an inflammation of the rib cage's cartilage. The chest pain from costochondritis may be sudden and intense. It will usually be tender when the sternum or the ribs near the sternum are pressed.
• Panic attack – Symptoms of a panic attack can be very similar to symptoms of a heart attack, including chest pain, rapid heartbeat, sweating, and rapid breathing or shortness or breath.
• Pulmonary embolism – blockage of a lung artery. Chest pain from a pulmonary embolism may be sudden and sharp and worsen when you inhale or cough. Other symptoms may include lightheadedness, anxiety, rapid heartbeat and shortness of breath.
• Esophageal spasms – the tube that runs from the throat to the stomach spasms. This can result in chest pain and usually makes it difficult and even painful to swallow.
What I hear most from people who are questioning whether or not they should go to the emergency room when they have chest pain is the fear that it will turn out to just be something like indigestion and they'll be embarrassed. Believe me when I say there's nothing to be embarrassed about. Medical professionals would much rather you come in, even if it turns out to be something minor, than wait and possibly jeopardize your life.
I speak from experience. Several years ago, I went to the emergency room two different times with chest pains. The first time, they didn't find anything wrong and sent me home. When it happened again, they did more extensive tests and discovered that I had gallstones which were causing my chest pain. After having my gallbladder removed, my chest pains went away.
On the other hand, my Dad, who had ulcers and was used to gastric problems, thought he had a bad case of indigestion. Thankfully he went to his doctor because it turned out that he'd had a mild heart attack.