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Chest pain is a very common complaint in the doctor's office. All of us, at one time or another, have experienced this unpleasant sensation. Many illnesses, however, may produce chest discomfort, and it is frequently a difficult job to identify its cause. Diseases that may provoke chest discomfort include lung problems such as pneumonia or bronchitis, stomach and digestive disorders such as ulcer disease and esophageal reflux, and the most feared type of chest pain: the type that is caused by heart disease.

When a patient comes to the doctor with a symptom of pain in the chest, the first step in identifying the disease is to get a detailed history of the pain itself. This should include a description of where the pain is located, its character, where the pain starts and where it tends to go (called the radiation), the factors that make it worse or better, and other associated symptoms.

From this interview, your doctor can begin to sort through the many causes of chest discomfort and narrow the list to a relative few. Next, a physical examination is performed and laboratory tests, a chest X-ray, and an electrocardiogram may be obtained to try and identify the particular illness in question. In some cases, more complete testing may be needed. These tests may include exercise stress testing, pulmonary function testing, or stomach X-rays.

Once the cause of the pain is identified, further evaluation of that disease may be directed by your doctor. This is to help in the characterization of the nature and extent of the process, and to help in the planning of therapy.

Treatment of the chest pain is directed at the underlying disease that is causing the discomfort. This treatment will be tailored by your doctor, based on your individual situation and needs.

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