People often associate chest pain with heart attacks and tend to panic thinking that it may be serious. Even though chest pain requires prompt medical attention, it does not always mean that the individual is suffering from an attack. In women especially, it may be an indication of some other disorders other than heart disease. This disorder in women and men may vary depending on the severity and the symptoms of the condition. Women may even experience right-sided chest pain, at times, that may be caused due to some other medical conditions that are not related with the heart. The duration of the pain may depend on the reason for experiencing pain in the chest.
What Causes Chest Pain in Women
Chest pain in women is always accompanied by a feeling of tightness in the chest and discomfort. This discomfort can sometimes be one of the reasons for experiencing a dull ache in the left or right side of the chest. The causes can be categorized according to the reason of pain, namely cardiac and non cardiac chest pain.
One of the common causes is angina. This condition is caused due to blocking of the arteries due to plaque or cholesterol that tend to build up in the inner walls of the arteries. This may lead to the narrowing of the arteries thus restricting proper circulation of blood and the individual may experience pain, particularly at the time of heavy work or exertion. There is also another type of angina which is known as Prinzmetal's angina and that causes the temporary restriction of blood circulation to the heart, making the heart experience spasms. This condition may be related to coronary heart diseases and usually occurs when the body is at rest.
Another life-threatening condition which is related to chest pain is the dissection of the aorta (aortic dissection), which is the most important valve of the heart. In this condition, the wall of the aorta tears and forces the blood to flow between the torn layers. This condition, which otherwise may also prove to be fatal, results in sharp pain and may require immediate attention.
Pericarditis, which is the inflammation of the pericardial sac, (this sac is filled with fluid and protects the heart from strong vibrations), is another cardiac cause. The main cause of the inflammation is due to the presence of viral infections in the body, which tend to spread to the heart. Another condition which is similar to pericarditis and is also caused due to a viral infection is myocarditis, which is the inflammation of the heart muscle, or the myocardium.
The thickening of the heart muscles can lead to a condition called hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM). This disorder can put extra pressure on the heart, owing to the hardened muscles, while pumping blood, which triggers pain in the thoracic region. HCM Is an asymmetrical condition, where only one portion of the heart becomes thicker. This cardiac problem is usually inherited, resulting from congenital defects. Though more intense in the younger people, this disorder can affect individuals of all age groups.
Suffering from rheumatic fever is also a risky factor as it affect the heart to a great extent. This fever can damage the tissues in the body, especially of the heart and result in the formation of scar tissues. Scarring can thicken the valves and sometimes even harden them, making blood circulation a difficult process. Inadequate blood in the heart can damage the valves completely, leading to rheumatic heart disease.
The heart valves perform the function of supplying blood to the entire body. The mitral valve is located between the left atrium and left ventricle. Due to some issues like the presence of extra tissue in the leaflets of the valve, this structure can bulge causing mitral valve prolapse. This can hamper the contraction of the left ventricle thereby causing hindrance to the blood flow in the upper chamber of the heart. Mitral valve regurgitation, which is the leakage of blood in the heart's chambers, can occur. In some cases, this condition can be life-threatening and require prompt medical intervention.
Other Non Cardiac Causes
Contrary to the popular belief that chest pain is only related to the disorders of the heart, research has proved that apart from heart diseases, it can arise due to various other reasons also. This is usually noticed on the right side.
- Problems related gallbladder and pancreas like gallstones or cholecystitis, which is the inflammation of the gallbladder
- Heartburn due to indigestion problems
- Perforation in the gastrointestinal tract, thereby allowing air in the abdominal cavity, which can irritate the diaphragm
- Respiratory diseases like pneumonia, pleurisy and pneumothorax (collapsed lung)
- Pulmonary embolism which is caused due to blood clot in lungs
- Other conditions include panic attacks, sore muscles, chest pain from stress and anxiety and in rare cases, cancer.
In order to detect chest ache, the following symptoms can be noticed. It is essential to identify these symptoms in the initial stages itself and seek medical attention to avoid further complications.
- Shortness of breath
- Profuse sweating and dizziness
- Pricking pain that radiates to the left side of the body, neck, shoulders and arms
- Burning sensation behind the sternum (or breast bone)
- Slight pain in the chest when touched
- Trouble while swallowing
Treating Chest Pain
The doctor will assess the medical history of the patient and the causes of chest pain before administering treatment. The doctor may also advice the patient to undergo an array of tests like chest X-ray, MRI and CT scan, angiogram and ECG to determine the exact cause and location. The patient may also need to undergo blood tests and endoscopy, where a thin instrument attached to a camera is inserted through the throat to view the internal working of the organs in the chest.
The doctor may also prescribe medications like aspirin, beta blockers, thrombolytics to inhibit the formation of blood clots, and for non cardiac causes like heartburn and respiratory disorders, etc., the doctor may prescribe drugs to reduce the severity and hence cure the condition completely.
These were some of the reasons why women experience pain and discomfort in the chest region. Noticing any type of pain in the chest region, be it mild or severe, is a matter of concern which must be brought to the immediate notice of your doctor, who may diagnose the exact reason for chest pain. Take care!