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Chest Pain During Pregnancy

Many things can cause chest pain during your pregnancy, and it’s important to keep in mind that a pregnant mother is inevitably going to experience some pains. Chest pain, although scary at times, is not necessarily abnormal. It may be caused by certain foods, or it can be the sign that something else is very wrong. If you’re experiencing chest pains during your pregnancy, you should not wait to contact your doctor.

Causes of Chest Pain During Pregnancy

Some of the reasons why you may experience chest pain are just routine parts of a normal pregnancy. Some of the most common causes of chest pain are:

  • Heartburn: This could be caused by indigestion, gas, or eating certain foods. The hormone progesterone is usually the culprit—it relaxes the sphincter at the end of the esophagus, which allows stomach acid to come up. If you suffered from heartburn before your pregnancy, it’s important to discuss this with your doctor. If you are taking iron supplements, do not take antacids at the same time that you take your supplement; antacids can interfere with your body’s ability to absorb iron.
  • Indigestion: Indigestion occurs when gas is trapped in your chest. This can cause severe pain for extended periods of time, so it’s important to avoid foods that give you indigestion (especially if they gave you gas before you were pregnant). The symptoms of indigestion and heartburn can often get worse after the 27th week of pregnancy.
  • Pressure from Baby: As the baby grows, your body transforms. During this transformation, the pressure on your ribs or diaphragm can trigger chest pain.
  • Stress: Besides causing muscle tension, stress can cause chest pain. Figure out what is causing you stress, and cut it out of your routine if possible.
  • Breasts: As your pregnancy progresses, your breasts will become larger. This can cause shortness of breath or chest pain.
  • Asthma: If you have asthma before you get pregnant, your pregnancy will more than likely trigger your symptoms, making it difficult to breathe after normal activities. Talk with your doctor to make sure your asthma medication is appropriate for you to be taking while you’re pregnant.
  • Widening of Rib Cage: As your pregnancy progresses, your rib cage widens. This can cause tension in your chest. As your baby gets bigger and begins putting pressure on your muscles, ribs, and diaphragm, shortness of breath tends to follow.

More Serious Causes of Chest Pain During Pregnancy

While chest pain during pregnancy is normal, certain kinds of pain may indicate more serious problems.

  • Deep Vein Thrombosis: Thrombosis is the medical term for a blood clot that appears in a vein or an artery. In cases of deep vein thrombosis (DVT), the clot forms in a vein in the leg or the pelvis. If this happens to you, your leg may feel hot, and it will probably swell up. You may also experience pain or a feeling of heaviness when standing or walking. DVT is a serious condition—if there is a blot clot, it may become dislodged and travel through your body until it becomes stuck in your lungs, resulting in a life-threatening condition known as a pulmonary embolism. You are at greater risk for this condition if you smoke, if you are over the age of 35, if you have a heart- or lung-related medical condition, if you are obese, or if you are carrying more than one baby.
  • Coronary heart disease: This occurs when the buildup of plaque in your arteries narrows them, restricting blood flow. This can cause chest pain even to women who are not experiencing the additional stress of pregnancy. This condition put you at risk for a heart attack, and you need to discuss it with your doctor. Again, if you are overweight, your risk is elevated.
  • Heart attack: The primary symptom of a heart attack is pain—or even severe discomfort—in the center of the chest. Other signs include lightheadedness, difficulty breathing, numbness in the limbs, and cold sweat on the skin. As with DVT and coronary heart disease, two of the primary risk factors are smoking and obesity. If you think you may be having a heart attack, have a friend drive you to the emergency room, or call 911. Do not attempt to drive yourself.
  • Congenital heart disease: Heart murmurs and other signs of cardiac disease are more prevalent among pregnant women than they used to be. Experts believe that this is due partly to improvements in medical care that now allow more women with congenital heart ailments to survive to childbearing age, and partly to the fact that it has now become common for women to postpone motherhood until their thirties—or even their forties—by which time in life heart ailments are somewhat more common. If you have a family history of heart disease, be sure that your doctor is aware of it, especially if you are over the age of 35.

Treating Chest Pain

If your chest pain is severe, persistent, or accompanied by shortness of breath, dizziness, and weakness, you should call your doctor immediately. Treatment may include making sure you are taking in enough vitamins and nutrients, especially iron, calcium, and magnesium. Also, taking a yoga class or adopting some other stress relief technique can reduce the pain.

Medical References:

    The Office on Women’s Health in the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Health at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services http://www.womenshealth.gov/heart-health-stroke/signs-of-a-heart-attack/ http://www.womenshealth.gov/pregnancy/you-are-pregnant/body-changes-discomforts.html#b UK National Health Service http://www.nhs.uk/conditions/pregnancy-and-baby/pages/coronary-heart-disease-pregnant.aspx#close http://www.nhs.uk/conditions/pregnancy-and-baby/pages/indigestion-heartburn-pregnant.aspx#close Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists http://www.rcog.org.uk/womens-health/clinical-guidance/venous-thrombosis-pregnancy-and-after-birth
[Page updated November 2014]