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Chest pain

Diagnosis of chest pain

At Dignity Health, we will compare your symptoms and medical history to get a bigger picture of your overall health. Because chest pain can be caused by a variety of conditions, diagnosis requires an in-depth evaluation of your symptoms. You will likely be asked to describe the location, quality, and severity of the pain, as well as whether there are exacerbating or alleviating factors (that make it better or worse).

If we suspect you are having a heart attack, your doctor will order an EKG and blood tests. Our emergency room specialists may also request a chest or abdominal x-ray to check your lungs and GI tract for signs of illness or injury.


Doctors relieve chest pain by treating its source, which is usually heart disease. In an emergency setting, the first treatment priority is diagnosing the cause of chest pain as quickly as possible to rule out life-threatening conditions such as heart attacks.

After diagnosis, you will be referred to the corresponding department, such as cardiology, to complete further treatment.

Depending on the cause of your chest pain, common treatments include blood pressure, anti-clotting, and beta-blocking medications to reduce the likelihood of a heart attack, and nitrates to relax and widen blood vessels. If you have an infection, you may also be prescribed antibiotics.

Chest pain may require surgery, such as coronary artery bypass graph surgery and coronary angioplasty.


Chest pain is often the result of a benign condition, but it can also be an early warning sign of a heart attack or cardiac arrest. In the emergency room, after being evaluated and/or treated for conditions such as infection or other underlying issues, your doctor will work with you to come up with a plan to prevent future episodes and address underlying conditions using medication or other treatments.

If your chest pain is related to a heart condition, you can also work with your doctor to come up with a plan for lifestyle changes such as diet and exercise.

When you should seek emergency care for chest pain

Chest pain can be life-threatening and is a well-recognized symptom of heart attack, as well as other serious conditions.

Seek immediate emergency care (call 911) if:

  • You have chest pain or intense pressure in your chest
  • Your pain moves to your shoulder blades, jaw, or left arm
  • You have shortness of breath, sweating, or chest pain while you are resting

Other serious symptoms that might indicate a life-threatening condition include:

  • Cold, clammy skin
  • Bluish color of the skin, lips, or nails (cyanosis)
  • Breathing problems, such as shortness of breath, difficulty breathing, labored breathing, wheezing, not breathing, or choking
  • Dizziness or disorientation

We treat a variety of emergency scenarios, including severe symptoms like chest pain, as part of our emergency services.

To receive an accurate diagnosis with humankindness and the highest level of care, trust your well-being to Dignity Health. Use our online tool to Find a Doctor near you today.