Here is what a cardiologist says about different kinds of chest pain like sharp, dull, persistent, intermittent.
How can the different types of chest pain—constant, intermittent, sharp and dull/achy be distinguished from each other?
“Chest pain that is intermittent and related to physical and/or emotional stress is more likely to be angina and related to the heart,” says Donna P. Denier, MD, of The Cardiology Center with the Appalachian Regional Healthcare System.
“With any intermittent pain, it’s important to look for the things that bring it on like exercise, eating or coughing.”
When a pain or ache of a come-and-go nature strikes, make a note of this: time, body position, recent foods eaten.
See if a pattern develops over time. For example, you may find that almost always, a particular type of brief aching in your chest occurs one or two days after your chest workout at the gym.
“Sharp pain is more likely to be inflammatory in nature, where dull pressure or tightness is more like cardiac pain,” says Dr. Denier.
Though a dull pressure or tightness is a common description in the symptom lists of gastroesophageal reflux disease, do NOT assume this is what you have before you’ve had your heart checked!
Though acid reflux is very common, so is heart disease.
Furthermore, a dull pressure or tightness in the chest, that isn’t correlated to food intake or related to acid reflux, is great cause for concern.
If it’s not heart related, it can still be potentially serious—like a bleeding ulcer in the upper esophagus.
“Persistent pain is usually not caused by the heart unless the person is having a heart attack. Angina comes and goes. Pain can be differentiated based on the other symptoms and findings that go with it and the risk factors for that particular person.”
Dr. Denier has been practicing medicine for over 15 years and is board certified by the American Board of Internal Medicine – Cardiovascular Disease.
Lorra Garrick has been covering medical, fitness and cybersecurity topics for many years, having written thousands of articles for print magazines and websites, including as a ghostwriter. She’s also a former ACE-certified personal trainer.