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Ask the doctor: Is this pain from my heart?

Updated: February 01, 2008

Ask the doctor

Is this pain from my heart?

Q. Every now and then I get a sudden, sharp pain on the left side of my chest. It feels like a penknife sticking into me. I get a little dizzy, and then it disappears as quickly as it came on. I have mentioned this to my internist and cardiologist. Even though the results of an electrocardiogram and thallium stress test were fine, it still scares me. Should I be more concerned about this?

A. Different descriptions of chest pain can alert doctors to serious problems. When a narrowed coronary artery restricts blood flow to the heart muscle, people often feel a dull, aching pressure across the chest or in the neck that lasts for minutes. This is what doctors call "typical angina." A heart attack may cause intense chest pain or what feels like severe indigestion that can last for hours. A pulmonary embolism (a blood clot in the lungs) often makes itself known as chest pain that becomes worse with a deep breath. An infection of the pericardium, the outer lining of the heart, can cause chest pain that is made worse by lying down or sitting up.

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