When Should You Call 911 for Chest Pain?

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Having chest pain can be a scary thing for anyone to experience. But when should you call 911? Dr. Christopher Wilson, manager of Renown’s Chest Pain Center, explains more.

Lingering chest pain is not to be ignored — every minute counts when treating a heart attack. We asked Christopher Wilson, MD, cardiologist at the Renown Institute for Heart and Vascular Health Chest Pain Center, to explain what to do if you or a loved one is experiencing chest pain.

What should people watch for when it comes to chest pain?

Chest pain may feel like heartburn, but it can be a sign of a heart attack. For any pain, pressure or discomfort in the chest, arms, back or arms that lasts at least five minutes, you should call 911.

Those experiencing a heart attack may also feel pain in their jaw, neck or stomach. Additional symptoms include nausea, fatigue, lightheadedness, shortness of breath or a cold sweat.

 

So when should you seek care?

In terms of chest pain lasting longer than five minutes, you need to call 911 and get to the emergency room as soon as possible — every minute counts when it comes to treating a heart attack.

Even if you go to the hospital and find out you’re not having a heart attack, there may still be an underlying problem that’s causing the pain. So heart attack or not, it’s best to get checked out and find the cause of the pain.

What do you recommend for people who experience a fleeting, less serious chest pain?

When you feel pain or discomfort that only lasts for a few seconds to less than five minutes, call your doctor and schedule an appointment. Write down how long you felt the pain, where exactly you felt it and any other details so that you can give that information to your doctor during your appointment.

However, brief chest pain isn’t always linked to heart problems — it may suggest something else. Brief chest discomfort characterized as a lightning bolt or electrical shock may be a result of nerve pain, inflammation or a musculoskeletal injury.

People may also experience a pinpoint chest discomfort that changes with breathing — that kind of pain is a sign that there’s more likely a problem with the lungs rather than the heart.

And if your chest pain gets better once you move around, then it may have been caused by something else, like acid reflux.

What does Renown’s Chest Pain Center offer for patients?

The Chest Pain Center is a model of care and coordination with our teams who work with REMSA paramedics to do a quick evaluation of each heart attack victim so that we can open the blocked artery as soon as possible.

With this type of model, we’re able to address the cause of pain so that we can accurately treat the type of heart attack someone is having. And once treatment is over and a patient starts their road to recovery, there are programs and therapies offered to get back to their lives and make changes in their lifestyle that help prevent future heart problems.

Visit Renown.org to learn more about heart attack care. If you or someone you know is experiencing chest pain, call 911 immediately. Do not drive to the emergency room.

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