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March 4, 2009 > Learn More About What You Can Do About Chest Pain

Learn More About What You Can Do About Chest Pain

Washington Hospital Seminar Focuses on Heart Disease Warning Signs

One of the most common reasons people call 9-1-1 for emergency medical help is because they or someone with them is having chest pain. Chest discomfort, especially if it is a feeling of uncomfortable pressure and squeezing, is widely known as one of the chief warning signs of a heart attack. However, chest pain can mean many different things.

"There are various types of chest pain and a long list of problems that could be the cause," says William Nicholson, M.D., a Fremont cardiologist who is a member of the medical staff at Washington Hospital. "Some of these problems are minor, some indicate serious disease, and some can be life threatening."

So, what do you do if you or someone you are with is experiencing chest pain? How do you know when to seek immediate medical help and when it's okay to wait for an appointment with your doctor?

These questions and others will be answered at a free public seminar about "Conquering Heart Disease - Chest Pains and What to Do About Them" presented by Dr. Nicholson on Tuesday, March 10 from 1 to 2:30 p.m. at the Conrad E. Anderson, M.D. Auditorium located at 2500 Mowry Avenue (Washington West) in Fremont. It's the second in a series of three seminars on heart disease featuring physicians from the hospital's medical staff.

See a doctor

The Mayo Clinic reports: "Often chest pain is unrelated to any heart problem. But even if the chest pain you experience has nothing to do with your cardiovascular system, the problem may still be important" - and worth having a medical evaluation.

Chest pain usually comes from one of the organs in the chest, including the heart, lungs or esophagus, or from part of the chest wall, which is made up of skin, muscle and bone. Other organs located close to the chest, such as the gall bladder or stomach, can also cause chest pain. Finally, chest pain may be the result of neck pain that is referred to the chest. Doctors call this "referred pain."

"At the seminar, we'll talk about types of chest pain and when you should seek immediate evaluation in an emergency room or if it's something that can be evaluated in a doctor's office," adds Dr. Nicholson. "We'll talk about some of the warning signs and red flags that indicate the need for immediate action."

The most common cause of heart-related chest pain is coronary artery disease, or blockages in the arteries that carry blood to the heart. With this condition, blood flow can become restricted, often resulting in episodes of chest pain. This happens more commonly during times of physical activity, when the heart needs more oxygen.

"All organs and tissues in the body require oxygen and nutrients carried in the blood," reports, a web site for clinicians and patients that is dedicated to disseminating medical knowledge. "The heart pumps oxygen and nutrient-rich blood through a huge network of arteries throughout the body, which includes vessels that supply blood to the heart muscle."

Ten million Americans

The American Heart Association estimates that nearly 10 million Americans suffer from chest pain related to heart disease, with another 500,000 new cases occurring every year. At the March 10 seminar, Dr. Nicholson will talk about symptoms of coronary artery disease and how the condition can be treated. Left untreated, the disease may lead to a heart attack.

At the seminar, you'll learn how to recognize if you may be at risk for coronary artery disease and what you can do to reduce that risk. Factors that contribute to a higher risk of coronary artery disease include age, gender, family history and heredity, physical inactivity, whether you smoke, high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol, high levels of stress and excessive alcohol intake.

The good news is that there are ways to prevent heart disease, and Dr. Nicholson will also address this topic. In general, to help avoid developing coronary artery disease, don't smoke, be more physically active and eat a healthy diet.

Anyone with a heart

"Heart disease continues to be the No. 1 killer in America," Dr. Nicholson reminds us. "When you think about the statistics, how common the problem is, and the number of people who are potentially at risk of having a heart attack, I believe everyone will benefit from the knowledge they'll gain at this seminar. Anyone with a heart should be interested."

For more information about or to reserve your space at "Conquering Heart Disease - Chest Pains and What to Do About Them," call (800) 963-7070 or go online to Washington Hospital's web site at, select "The Community" and click on "Community Seminars and Health Classes."

The third seminar in Washington Hospital's series on heart health, "Cardiac Aging and How to Stay Healthy by Eating a Heart Healthy Diet," is scheduled for Tuesday, April 7.

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