First Aid for Chest Pain

Chest pain can come from a lot of things.

Causes of chest pain that need emergency medical care include:

  • Heart attack
  • Injury such as to the chest wall or lung
  • Collapsed lung
  • Blood clot that has traveled to a lung (pulmonary embolism)

Other causes of chest pain include:

  • Lung problems such as pneumonia or bronchitis (if severe enough, these might also need
    emergency care)
  • Hiatal hernia
  • Heartburn
  • Shingles
  • Pulled muscle
  • Anxiety
  • Swallowing too much air

How do you know when you need medical help for chest pain? It’s not always easy to tell. If
you’re not sure why your chest hurts, it’s best to check it out. Getting help for a heart attack, lung
injury or other serious conditions, could save your life.


Self-care for chest pain from a pulled muscle or minor injury to the rib cage:

  • Do not strain the muscle or ribs while pain is felt.
  • Rest.
  • Take a pain reliever such as aspirin, acetaminophen or ibuprofen. (Note: Do not give aspirin or any medication containing salicylates to anyone 19 years of age or younger unless a doctor tells you to.)
  • Do call your doctor if the pain lasts longer than two days.

Self-care for chest pain from a hiatal hernia:

  • Lose weight if you are overweight.
  • Eat 5-6 frequent meals, instead of 3 meals a day. Do not eat large meals.
  • Avoid tobacco, alcohol, coffee, spicy foods, peppermint, chocolate, citrus juices and carbonated beverages.
  • If you have heartburn, take antacids after meals and before going to bed.
  • Do not eat food or drink milk two hours before going to bed.
  • Avoid bending over or lying down after eating.
  • Do not wear tight clothing, tight belts, or girdles.
  • Raise the head of your bed about 3 to 4 inches (40 degree angle) when you sleep.

Self-care for chest pain from anxiety and hyperventilation:

  • Talk over the source of your anxiety with family, friends and clergy. If this is not enough, you may need the help of a professional counselor or psychiatrist.
  • When you hyperventilate, cover your mouth and nose with a paper bag. Breathe into the paper bag slowly and re-breathe the air. Do this in and out at least 10 times. Remove the bag and breathe normally a few minutes. Repeat breathing in and out of the paper bag as needed.
  • Avoid using large amounts of aspirin or other salicylate-containing medicines. (Note: Do not give aspirin or any medication that has salicylates to anyone 19 years of age or younger unless a doctor tells you to.)
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Written by American Institute for Preventive Medicine

Explore Wellness in 2021