Intermittent Chest Pain: When to Worry

Intermittent Chest Pain: When to Worry

Experiencing chest pain is scary. But when the pain comes and goes, it can be difficult to know whether it’s a cause for worry.

Intermittent chest pain refers to any type of chest pain that occurs on and off, rather than constantly. It can be sharp or dull, lasting anywhere from a few seconds to several minutes. Sometimes, it’s accompanied by other symptoms like shortness of breath, sweating, or nausea.

If you have chest pain, you should always take it seriously. Kunal Patel, MD, and our team at NJ Cardiovascular Institute specialize in diagnosing and treating chest pain, and we’re here to help you find answers. 

Here’s what you need to know about intermittent chest pain and when to go to the doctor for it.

Common reasons for intermittent chest pain

Some of the most common causes of intermittent chest pain are:

Acid reflux

Also known as heartburn, acid reflux often causes a burning sensation in your chest that’s easy to mistake for chest pain. Acid reflux happens when stomach acid flows back up into your esophagus. While it irritates the lining of your esophagus and causes discomfort, it doesn’t have anything to do with your heart.


Angina is a common type of chest pain that occurs when your heart doesn’t get enough blood and oxygen. Angina pain can be intermittent, and many people describe it as a tightness or pressure in the chest.

Pulmonary embolism

A pulmonary embolism occurs when a blood clot travels to your lungs and blocks blood flow. The condition can cause chest pain, shortness of breath, and other symptoms — and it’s a medical emergency that requires prompt care.

Panic attacks

Panic attacks are sudden, intense feelings of fear and overwhelm. One of the most common symptoms of a panic attack is chest pain, and some people say it feels like having a heart attack. Other symptoms can include rapid heartbeat, sweating, and shortness of breath.


Costochondritis develops when the cartilage that connects your ribs to your breastbone gets inflamed. It can cause sharp, intermittent chest pain. Like panic attacks, the symptoms of costochondritis can easily be mistaken for a heart attack.

When to go to the doctor of intermittent chest pain

If you have chest pain, you should always go to the doctor to have it checked out. Even if it’s not a medical emergency, it’s always best to seek medical attention to rule out any serious conditions.

Dr. Patel and our team perform a physical exam, take your medical history, and do a series of diagnostic tests to determine the cause of your symptoms. These tests may include blood tests, imaging tests, or electrocardiograms.

Depending on your diagnosis, we may prescribe medications to manage your symptoms or treat an underlying condition. Lifestyle changes, like quitting smoking, maintaining a healthy weight, and exercising regularly, can also help manage your symptoms.

When to seek emergency medical care for chest pain

Not all causes of intermittent chest pain are serious, but some are. The situations where it’s especially important to seek immediate medical attention include chest pain that:

Severe chest pain or pain that comes along with other symptoms could be signs of a more serious condition. If you experience chest pain during physical activity or exercise, stop immediately and seek medical attention.

Last but not least, always seek medical care if you have new or worsening chest pain and you have a history of heart disease or have been diagnosed with a heart condition.

Intermittent chest pain can be a symptom of a variety of conditions. While not all cases of intermittent chest pain require immediate medical attention, it’s not easy to determine the right course of action on your own.

Schedule a consultation with Dr. Patel and our team at NJ Cardiovascular Institute to learn more and find a treatment plan that’s right for you. Call one of our offices in Elizabeth, Lakewood, Paramus, or Secaucus, New Jersey, or send us a message online today.

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