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The definition of atypical chest pain is generally abstract and can vary from doctor to doctor. Some feel that it is atypical if it is not related to angina, or chest pain caused by a lack of oxygen-rich blood to the heart. Others state that atypical pain is any chest pain above the sternum, or chest bone, or pain radiating from the left or right side of the sternum. Although many occurrences of atypical pain are related to simple things like overexertion or spasms caused by acid reflux, some pains may be the result of a heart attack or other serious condition.
Atypical chest pain is generally a sharp, short-lived pain that occurs above the sternum, or to the left or right of it. Sometimes the pain may be more persistent or may radiate from a location other than the chest. In some cases, pain may develop in the arms or shoulders, abdomen, back, or throat. More persistent pain may be indicative of a severe medical condition. For example, persistent pain in the upper back, neck, or jaw may be caused by what is referred to as an atypical heart attack.
Those who have a lower threshold for pain may find that atypical chest pain is more noticeable than those who tolerate discomfort well. Additionally, women are more likely to experience irregular types of chest pain than men. Given the many variables, it is not surprising to find that this condition is often misdiagnosed by doctors or ignored by patients. In many cases, this will not result in complications, as most atypical pains are not actually due to heart or lung conditions, but instead, are generally due to mild musculoskeletal problems.
There are many potential causes for atypical chest pain, ranging from mild to severe. Overexertion due to exercise or heavy work is one common cause for this type of pain, as are headaches and the ingestion of acidic substances. Psychiatric issues, such as major depression or frequent panic attacks, and certain gastrointestinal conditions may also result in chest discomfort.
Some of the more severe causes of this condition are related to the lungs, heart, and blood vessels. For instance, many of those who experience this type of pain are encouraged to undergo certain physical examinations to help rule out pulmonary embolisms or an aortic aneurysm. Heart attacks, pneumonia, and thoracic tumors may also result in chest pain.