Reproducible chest pain means that a doctor or medical team can reproduce the pain under specific circumstances through pressing or touching. Doctors often use it as an early diagnostic tool when a person presents with pain in their chest.

More than 6.5 million Americans visit the emergency room each year for reported chest pain, and another 4 million seek help for this symptom in outpatient facilities. The causes of chest pain can range from relatively benign issues, such as indigestion and muscular strain, to more serious issues, such as a heart attack or pulmonary embolism.

Doctors may use palpation, which refers to pressure or touch, to try to reproduce the pain and help make a diagnosis. While not always the case, reproducible chest pain often points toward a musculoskeletal issue, such as a pulled muscle or fracture, rather than a more serious underlying cause.

This article reviews reproducible chest pain and its use in the diagnostic process, other tests, and when to speak with a doctor.

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Reproducible chest pain means that a doctor can reproduce the pain through specific manipulation of the person’s chest.

Reproducible chest pain may occur due to various musculoskeletal conditions, such as arthritis, fibromyalgia, destruction of cartilage, and overuse of muscles.

However, it cannot entirely rule out causes beyond musculoskeletal chest pain, such as pulmonary embolism.

Acute coronary syndromes

Acute coronary syndromes refer to a range of different conditions that result from a sudden loss of blood flow to the heart, such as a heart attack.

A study from 2015 suggests that reproducible chest pain can help rule out acute coronary syndrome in people presenting with acute chest pain. However, the researchers note that a negative test cannot rule out other possible heart health causes.

The 2021 American Heart Association Chest Pain Guidelines also note that reproducible chest pain typically indicates a musculoskeletal issue and that doctors can use it to help rule out acute heart issues.

Pulmonary embolism

A pulmonary embolism occurs when a blood clot blocks an artery in the lungs, stopping blood flow to part of the lungs. Among other symptoms, it can cause chest pain and trouble breathing.

The ability of a doctor to reproduce chest pain through palpation cannot rule out a pulmonary embolism. They will need to run additional tests to ensure a person’s chest pain is due to musculoskeletal issues.

Other causes of chest pain

The American Heart Association (AHA) points out that there are many causes of chest pain beyond heart-related issues.

However, reproducible chest pain cannot rule out noncardiac-related chest pain causes without additional testing.

Reproducible chest pain may help a doctor rule out specific heart-related issues. However, it is generally insufficient to fully rule out other underlying causes, such as pulmonary embolism.

A doctor will likely order one or more of the following tests to check for the source of chest pain:

  • chest X-ray
  • blood tests
  • an EKG
  • a CT scan

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a person should call 911 if they develop symptoms of a heart attack, such as:

  • feeling faint, weak, or lightheaded
  • chest discomfort or pain, often in the center or toward the left side
  • discomfort or pain in one or both arms or shoulders
  • shortness of breath
  • pain or discomfort in the jaw, back, or neck

Though there are many possible causes of chest pain beyond heart issues, a person should call 911 if they have any doubts about whether they are having a heart attack.

The sooner someone receives treatment, the better their chances of a favorable outcome.

Reproducible chest pain refers to pain that doctors can reproduce by touching the chest area. It may indicate a musculoskeletal issue, but a healthcare professional will likely need to perform a few more tests to help determine the exact underlying cause of the pain.

A doctor can determine the cause of chest pain with blood tests, an EKG, which healthcare professionals carry out in all cases of chest pain, and imaging tests.

A person should seek emergency medical care if they suspect they or someone is having a heart attack. Quick treatment can help improve someone’s chances of a favorable outcome.