Chest pain and shortness of breath are high priorities in the ER, and often it's the patient's co-complaints that will determine if chest pain trumps shortness of breath or vice versa when determining patient priority.
Both conditions can be caused by severe or minor problems. Chest pain can be a sign you're having a heart attack or have a pulmonary embolism (a blood clot in the lung). But it could also be a symptom of heartburn or gallbladder inflammation, as well as injured ribs, cancer or a panic attack. Similarly shortness of breath can be caused by several medical conditions, including life threatening emergencies like a heart attack, pneumonia, severe asthma attack or allergic reaction to less urgent problems like a panic attack.
When it comes to chest pain and shortness of breath, the priority is going to depend on any other complaints, as well as the age and sex of the patient, explains Dr. Hedayati. "A 60-year-old man suffering from shortness of breath takes priority over a 20-year-old woman complaining of shortness of breath."