Coronary artery disease (CAD) is the leading cause of death in America. Each year, hundreds of thousands of Americans die from heart disease. Many people have no idea they even have CAD. As a matter of fact, the first indication that many people have heart disease is when they have a massive heart attack, or even worse, experience sudden cardiac death.

Chest pain is one of the hallmarks of CAD. Some people (such as women or diabetics) may have severe heart disease, or even suffer a heart attack with no chest pain whatsoever! Most instances of chest pain are not related to the heart. Other common causes of chest pain include spasm of the esophagus, heartburn, and chest wall pain (e.g. a strained muscle from lifting furniture). While the list of potential causes of chest pain is rather lengthy, the purpose of this article is to help you consider your symptoms in detail so you can relay these symptoms to your physician. When you experience CP think about the following questions. (If you have severe chest pain or are at high risk of having a heart attack, call 911.)

  1. How often do you have the pain?
  2. How long do episodes of pain last?
  3. Does the pain radiate any place, such as the shoulders, neck, or jaw?
  4. Do you experience shortness of breath, nausea, heart racing, dizziness, or sweating with the chest pain?
  5. What things bring on the pain and what things make it go away?
  6. What position is the most comfortable for you when you are experiencing the pain?
  7. Have any of your close blood relatives had a heart attack, and if so, who were they and what were their approximate ages when they had their first attack?
  8. Do you smoke? Did you ever smoke in the past, and if so, how much?
  9. Have you ever been told you have a high cholesterol level?
  10. Does taking a deep breath or coughing affect the pain?
  11. Does pressing on your chest reproduce the same type of pain?
  12. Is the pain a pressure or squeezing sensation, sharp, achy, burning, or dull?
  13. Have you been coughing recently?
  14. Does food affect the pain? If so, how does it impact the pain?
  15. Have you been belching or passing gas more than usual?
  16. What have you tried for the pain? Did it work, and if so, how long did it take to get relief and how long did the relief last?
  17. Is the pain at its worst at its onset or as time moves on?
  18. Have you ever been diagnosed with asthma?
  19. Is there any pain in the breasts?
Author's Bio: 

Dr. Ann Hester is a board certified internal medicine specialist, author, founder of and creator of the Patient Whiz. She can be reached at

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