How To Know The Difference Between Cardiac And Non-Cardiac Chest Pain

How To Know The Difference Between Cardiac And Non-Cardiac Chest Pain

It is estimated that almost 20- 40 per cent of the general population experience chest pain or discomfort during their lifetime. This pain may range from a sharp stabbing ache to a burning sensation. Most of the times, chest pain is associated with a heart disease, but it is important to understand that cardiac complications are not the only factors that lead to this symptom. Manifestation of gastrointestinal or respiratory disorders can also be a cause of acute chest pain.

What Is Non-Cardiac Chest Pain?

Non-cardiac chest pain is an intense recurring pain in the chest that is not caused by cardiac disease or a heart attack. Although this pain is often similar to angina, it may arise due to various problems like:

  • Muscle or bone problems in the chest
  • Gastroesophageal reflux disease
  • Stomach ulcers Lung diseases
  • Stress or anxiety
  • Rib injury

Distinguishing Between Cardiac And Non-Cardiac Chest Pain

Although it is very important to always rely on a medical diagnosis and a professional’s judgment, you can estimate whether your chest pain is due to heart complication or some other non-cardiac related issue. And this can be done by checking the duration and trigger of the pain. Here are some questions and answers that can help you understand whether you have cardiac or non-cardiac pain.

Is Your Chest Pain Momentary?
Pain caused due to heart disease usually lasts for several minutes. The momentary chest discomfort that feels like sharp stabs or electric shocks is usually due to rib injury, muscle pulls, inflammation, or nerve pain. This sharp pain that lasts only few seconds is unlikely to signal a heart attack.

Is Your Chest Pain Triggered By Heavy Breathing Or Coughing?
When you feel a sudden jolt of pain due to heavy breathing or vigorous coughing, it indicates a lung problem like asthma, pleuritis or pneumonia rather than a heart disease.

Does The Pain Spread?
Unlike cardiac pain, the non- cardiac pain is confined to one particular spot in the chest, depending on its cause. Cardiac pain is usually diffused – it starts from the middle of the chest and extends to other areas like back, neck, jaw, shoulders, and one or both arms.

Does Your Pain Lessen With Exercise?
If your chest pain reduces with exercise or other physical activity, it is likely to be caused by non- cardiac causes such as heartburn (due to acid reflux). On the other hand, heart-related pain worsens with strenuous physical activities and improves with rest.


Chest pain, severe or dull, should not be ignored or shrugged off. Although it can be caused due to various factors, it is difficult to point out the exact cause without a proper diagnosis. So, if you often experience a discomfort or pain in your chest, you should get a diagnosis done at the earliest.

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