Chest Pain in Women: A Variety of Causes
Women do not have the same biology as men. We remember this when it comes to so-called “women’s health issues” such as pregnancy and menopause. However, it is not something we think about when it comes to experiencing chest pain.
What Actually Causes Chest Pain in Women
So what causes chest pain in women? Dr. Ellie Cannon notes that heartburn and indigestion are common causes of chest pain. As is well known, indigestion can cause pain, bloating, gas, and heartburn. But gas can actually cause chest pain when the upper bowl presses up into the chest cavity. Heartburn is a burning sensation behind the breastbone that often worsens when you bend over. Frequent causes of heartburn are overeating, acid reflux, ulcers, and gallstones.
Women can also experience chest pain from pleurisy. Deborah McIntosh reported that when the lining around the lungs swells, the pain becomes very strong and will often sharpen during intakes of breath. Pleurisy is often caused by bronchitis, pneumonia, or other viral infections. Coughing and wheezing will increase the pain, and it can also result in muscle strain.
When discussing chest pain in women, Dr. Ellie Cannon reported that “muscular chest pain or chest-wall pain is quite common” and that the joints between the ribs and the cartilage can become inflamed. The chest muscles are like every other part of the body, and when they are overexerted, they become sore.
Emotional Stresses and the Body
Stress, anxiety, and other powerful emotions can affect the heart and lungs resulting in chest pain and difficulty breathing. Emotional responses can even cause heart palpitations and physical responses within the heart.
Some women do not receive an actual diagnose after visiting their doctor and undergoing various tests for their chest pain. Dr. Gifford-Jones reports that Tietze’s syndrome is a common cause of undiagnosed chest pain. Tietze’s syndrome causes a general aching sensation where the ribs meet the sternum and can also result in sharp, stabbing pains.
Dr. Gifford-Jones lists Texidor’s Syndrome as another cause of undiagnosed chest pain. Most women have experienced this precordial “stab” or “catch” at some point in their lives. It is usually experienced while slumped in a seat. It causes a sharp, sudden pain in the left side of the chest that can be eased within a few minutes by a position change and a switch to shallow breathing.
Interestingly, Sharon Kirkey reports that research from the University of Arkansas shows that 43% of the women studied did not feel chest pain while experiencing their heart attacks. Instead, they experienced a variety of other symptoms such as fatigue before the event, pain in the back and high chest, sleep disturbance, shortness of breath, indigestion, and anxiety. When a woman experiences chest pain, it does not mean she is having a heart attack. In fact, chest pain is not one of the main symptoms of heart attacks in women.
Chest pain in women has a variety of causes. If you are experiencing chest pain or if a previously diagnosed chest pain has worsened, seek help immediately.
Not all chest pain is immediately life threatening, but a medical care practitioner should make the diagnosis.
Cannon, Ellie. “Chest Pain is Not Always the Sign of a Heart Attack.” Mail on Sunday. 1 Nov 2009. Nexis. 30 May 2011.
Gifford-Jones, W. “The Doctor Game.” The Globe and Mail. 23 Aug 1984. Nexis. 20 May 2011.
Kirkey, Sharon. “Fatigue a Warning for Women.” National Post. 4 Nov 2003, Late Edition. Nexis. 31 May 2011.
McIntosh, Deborah. “Chest Pain.” The Sun Herald. 20 May 2011, Late Edition. Nexis. 20 May 2011.