Chest pain and cardiovascular problems: when to seek help

Having chest pain can be worrying, and it can be hard to know when to seek help. Learning more about heart health can help you differentiate between common conditions and understand what your symptoms mean. What's more, having chest pain does not necessarily mean you have heart disease

Heart disease is the collective name for a range of different conditions that affect the heart’s ability to work efficiently. Being diagnosed with heart disease doesn’t always mean you need heart surgery. Here we'll look at a range of conditions that affect your cardiovascular system and/or cause chest pain. 


This is a burning feeling in the chest, caused by stomach acid travelling towards your throat. It’s often worse after eating, when lying down or bending over. Heartburn is easily treatable at home with antacid medication, eating smaller, more frequent meals and raising one end of your bed so that your chest and head are above waist level. 

High or low blood pressure

High blood pressure, or hypertension, is a common condition that can increase the risk of developing more serious heart disease. In 90-95% of cases there is no single identifiable cause, but lifestyle is an important factor. You can help manage your blood pressure by eating a healthy diet, exercising regularly and reducing alcohol consumption. 

Low blood pressure, or hypotension, can cause dizziness, blurred vision, nausea, confusion or fainting. You can get your blood pressure measured with a simple test at Spire Healthcare.

Blood clots and thrombosis 

When you get a cut, your blood clots around the wound to prevent dangerous levels of blood loss. However, if blood clots inside the body it can form a thrombosis, which poses a serious health risk if it travels to the lungs. You may have heard of deep vein thrombosis, or DVT, which causes pain and swelling in the leg, and can occur during long flights. 

Haemophilia is a rare condition caused by blood not clotting normally. It’s often inherited, and symptoms include prolonged bleeding from wounds and nosebleeds, bleeding gums, bruising easily and sore or stiff joints. 

If you have any concerns, we run specialised tests to assess the risks of dangerous clotting.

Arrhythmia (abnormal heart rhythms) 

If the electrical signals that stimulate your heartbeat are interrupted, your heart can beat too quickly, too slowly, or in an irregular way. This can cause palpitations, dizziness, fainting, pain or lethargy. Arrhythmia that originates from the chambers at the bottom of your heart is a serious condition that can cause cardiac arrest. We can diagnose and then treat some types of arrhythmia via a process called ablation, which uses radio frequencies to correct the heart rhythm.

Valve disease 

The heart contains valves that open and close to regulate the flow of blood. Blood should travel through the heart in one direction, but valves that don’t close properly can leak. Valves can also narrow, which restricts blood flow.

Symptoms of valve disease include shortness of breath, swollen ankles, fatigue, chest pain or palpitations and dizziness or fainting. Problems with heart valves can be initially detected by your GP with a stethoscope. They will refer you to a cardiologist for tests including an electrocardiogram (ECG), a chest X-ray or a contrast echocardiogram

Several Spire hospitals are able to replace diseased valves with artificial ones to help restore your quality of life.

Angina and coronary heart disease

Pain or discomfort in your chest, arm, neck, stomach or jaw could be caused by angina, which is when the blood supply to your heart is restricted by narrowed arteries. It is a symptom of heart disease and your body’s way of telling you you’re not getting enough oxygen when you’re moving or under stress. Unexplained chest pain should always be taken seriously, and we offer a range of health checks, including measuring cholesterol, exercise ECG (monitoring your blood pressure and heart during exercise) and cardiac MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) scans.

Coronary heart disease is caused by a build-up of fatty substances in your arteries. Although common, this is a largely preventable disease. If your arteries become seriously clogged, you may need a heart bypass, wherein portions of healthy veins are taken from elsewhere in the body to replace those in the heart that aren’t working properly. For less serious build-ups, a healthy diet and exercise may reduce restriction, or a procedure called angioplasty can be used to increase blood flow through an artery.

Heart attack

A heart attack is a medical emergency and needs immediate action. Symptoms include pressure, tightness or a squeezing pain in the centre of your chest that can feel like it’s travelling to your arms, jaw, neck, back and abdomen, shortness of breath, nausea, dizziness, coughing, vomiting, wheezing, and overwhelming anxiety. Dial 999 immediately if you suspect someone is having a heart attack.  

Heart attacks happen when the blood supply to the heart is completely blocked, often by fatty material in the arteries. After a heart attack, bypass surgery may be needed and ongoing scans to monitor the patient’s condition.

Heart failure

Heart failure occurs when the heart can’t pump blood around the body, often because it has become too weak or stiff. It doesn’t mean your heart has stopped working, but it will need treatment to help it work better. 

Symptoms include breathlessness, fatigue (especially after exercise), swollen legs and ankles, a persistent cough, fast heartbeat and dizziness. They can develop gradually or quickly, and the condition is more common in older people.

After a blood test, ECG and echocardiogram, you will be given a treatment plan for life to manage the condition. This may include recommendations for changes to your diet and exercise habits, a combination of medications, a heart bypass or even a heart transplant, or surgery to insert a pacemaker (a small device that sends electrical impulses to the heart to maintain a stable heart rate and rhythm).

Congenital heart conditions

It is estimated that 8 in 1,000 babies born in the UK have congenital heart conditions. This means an abnormality occurred in the womb; for example, the heart wall may not properly develop, leading to a ‘hole’ in the heart. 

We offer a number of scans that can detect congenital heart conditions, such as cardiac catheterisation, echocardiography, ECG and chest X-ray.

We hope you've found this article useful, however, it cannot be a substitute for a consultation with a specialist

If you're concerned about symptoms you're experiencing or require further information on the subject, talk to a GP or see an expert consultant at your local Spire hospital.

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Author Information

Cahoot Care Marketing

Niched in the care sector, Cahoot Care Marketing offers a full range of marketing services for care businesses including: SEO, social media, websites and video marketing, specialising in copywriting and content marketing.

Over the last five years Cahoot Care Marketing has built an experienced team of writers and editors, with broad and deep expertise on a range of care topics. They provide a responsive, efficient and comprehensive service, ensuring content is on brand and in line with relevant medical guidelines.

Their writers and editors include care sector workers, healthcare copywriting specialists and NHS trainers, who thoroughly research all topics using reputable sources including the NHS, NICE, relevant Royal Colleges and medical associations.

The Spire Content Hub project was managed by:

Lux Fatimathas, Editor and Project Manager

Lux has a BSc(Hons) in Neuroscience from UCL, a PhD in Cellular and Molecular Biology from the UCL Institute of Ophthalmology and experience as a postdoctoral researcher in developmental biology. She has a clear and extensive understanding of the biological and medical sciences. Having worked in scientific publishing for BioMed Central and as a writer for the UK’s Medical Research Council and the National University of Singapore, she is able to clearly communicate complex concepts.

Catriona Shaw, Lead Editor

Catriona has an English degree from the University of Southampton and more than 12 years’ experience copy editing across a range of complex topics. She works with a diverse team of writers to create clear and compelling copy to educate and inform.

Alfie Jones, Director — Cahoot Care Marketing

Alfie has a creative writing degree from UCF and initially worked as a carer before supporting his family’s care training business with copywriting and general marketing. He has worked in content marketing and the care sector for over 10 years and overseen a diverse range of care content projects, building a strong team of specialist writers and marketing creatives after founding Cahoot in 2016.