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Chest Pain in Women
What Are The Symptoms Of Chest Pain?
Any pain which occurs in the chest area is considered chest pain. Just as there are many potential causes for headaches or stomach aches, the cause of chest pain can be equally difficult to pinpoint. However being able to describe the characteristics of the pain will go a long way to helping your doctor solve the diagnosis. For example, is the pain sharp and stabbing or more like a dull ache, it is associated with exercise or breathing, does it come and go or is it persistent? These are the sorts of questions your doctor will ask. Depending on your answer, the diagnosis of chest pain can span from a mild muscle pull to pleurisy or heart attack. Below is an outline of the most common and less common causes of chest pain and their symptoms. But first a brief summary:
Symptoms of Heart Related Chest Pain
Pressure, tightness or fullness in the chest.
Crushing searing pain that radiates to your neck, jaw, shoulders and arms, particularly the left arm.
Pain that lasts more than a few minutes, it can go away and come back again and varies in intensity.
Shortness of breath, dizziness, sweating or nausea.
Symptoms of Non-Heart Related Chest Pain
Pain accompanied by a burning sensation behind the breastbone.
Pain accompanied by a
sour taste or a sensation of food re-entering the mouth.
Pain that worsens as you breathe or move your body.
Tenderness on the chest when you touch the affected area.
Signs Of Heart Problems
Chest pain associated with a heart attack typically occurs in the mid to left side of the chest and can extend to the left shoulder, the left arm, jaw, back and stomach. Pain associated with a heart attack in women however may be less severe than in men - some women describe it as more like chest discomfort rather than pain which can last up to 20 minutes. See heart attack symptoms for a more detailed explanation.
Angina attacks typically occur on the left side of the chest and are described as tight, crushing or suffocating. Pain can radiate to the neck, throat, jaw and shoulder. Signs of angina occur with physical exertion and gradually disappear with rest.
This heart disease condition causes a thickening of the left ventricle of the heart so that blood cannot be adequately pumped around the body. It can lead to chest pain, as well as palpitations and fainting.
Inflammation of the tissue surrounding the heart, this condition is often caused by an infection. It can cause severe chest pain.
Heart Valve Disorders
Including aortic stenosis and mitral valve prolapse, heart valve disorders can cause severe chest pain.
Signs of Lung Problems
Inflammation of the membranes (thin tissue) surrounding the lungs. It can cause sharp chest pain which worsens after coughing or when you breathe in. As a result you are forced to take shorter, sharp breaths. Pleurisy occurs more often in women than men and may be felt in the shoulders, neck and stomach. This is often referred to as pleuritic pain.
An infection in the lungs, this condition can produce a dull pain in the chest. If it is accompanied by pleurisy there may also be a sharp, stabbing pain when you breathe in. It may also be accompanied by shortness of breath when you exert yourself, coughing and fever.
Signs Of Muscles Or Bone Problems
Strain in the muscle can be caused by excessive coughing, lifting a heavy object or unaccustomed exercise. Unlike pain associated with the heart or lungs, pain associated with muscle strain worsens when you move your arms or upper body or by pressing on the pain with your fingertip. It usually disappears on its own after a few days.
An inflammation in the area between the ribs and their cartilage, costochondritis can occur due to the same reasons as muscle strain - that is lifting heavy objects, overdoing exercise or excessive coughing. It is 3 times more likely to occur in women as men. Pain is usually a dull tenderness in the chest area, this can last for several hours or days. It can worsen if you press on the front of the rib cage. Occasionally the pain can be sharp or fleeting, particularly if the person bends, twists or moves the upper body.
Sometimes a physical trauma can result in a cracked or fractured rib. Cancer which has spread throughout the body may also result in a rib fracture. Then again, even something as harmless as vigorous coughing in women with severe osteoporosis (brittle bones) can cause a rib to crack. Chest pain associated with damage to the ribs is usually a sharp pain that becomes worse with breathing in. It also worsens with movement of the upper body.
Osteoarthritis of the Spine
Sometimes spine deformities caused by osteoarthritis can put pressure on the nerves running from the backbone to the chest. The resulting pain causes similar symptoms to angina. The only difference is that pain tends to worsen after long periods of sitting or lying down in the same position (angina on the other hand becomes worse with exertion). The pain may, like angina, radiate down the arms, neck and jaw. It may also occur after strenuous movement of the arms or upper body.
This condition which primarily affects women involves stiff painful muscles and tendons. People with this disorder have a number of fibromyalgia tender points which are painful when touched. Sometimes pressure on the tender point between the ribs and cartilage can cause chest pain. An inflammation of this area (costochondritis) is more common in fibro patients. For an overview, see symptoms of fibromyalgia.
Signs Of Gastrointestinal Tract Problems
Also known as GERD, it can produce symptoms similar to a heart attack or angina attack. If antacids relieve the pain, or if the pain mostly occurs when the person is lying down, is not worsened by exercise or is accompanied by difficulties swallowing, it is more likely to be related to the digestive tract.
Esophageal Motility Disorders
This is pain caused by some abnormality in the way food passes down the esophagus to the stomach. Pain can be severe and is associated with eating food or particular foods.
Irritable bowel syndrome which commonly affects more women than men is characterized by stomach pain and changing bowel habits (see symptoms of IBS). It can cause intermittent chest pain.
Peptic Ulcer Disease
This disease causes the lining of the stomach to erode and can cause a burning chest pain.
In rare instances women who develop this condition can develop chest pain, particularly after eating fatty foods. Pain tends to be spasmodic and occurs in the upper right side of the abdomen. It may extend to the right shoulder blade. It can last for several hours and then gradually goes away.
Some women experience chest pain and palpitations as menopause symptoms. Pain may occur at the same time as hot sweats or at times of stress.
More common in people after the age of 50, the first sign of shingles is a pain on one side of the chest. It is only a few days later when fluid filled blisters appear at the site of the pain is it clear that shingles is the cause. Although the pain and rash usually disappear within a few weeks, about 50 percent of people over the age of 60 develop chronic pain in the area affected by shingles.