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Question:

I feel silly asking, but are my vague pains and feelings of pressure serious?  

I have been having vague pains and feelings of pressure in my chest for awhile, nothing major but over the last two weeks if a loud noise or something else startles or scares me, my heart does an instantaneous clinch or thump and a bad sharp pain feels like it shoots through my heart. I am a 54 year old Caucasian female without any previous problems. I feel silly asking about this, but need your advice. Thank you. 

submitted by Madeline from Indiana on 6/12/2013

Answer:

Deborah Meyers, MDby Texas Heart Institute cardiologist, Deborah E. Meyers, MD  

Dear Madeline,The simple answer is that if you are worried enough to write an online question then you need to take the time to get your symptoms checked out properly.  The pain that you are having could be for many different reasons.  It could be gastric reflux, musculoskeletal strain, stress, or this could be a warning about something more serious that does, indeed, deserve attention.

In medicine we always try and investigate for the serious diagnosis before we attribute the cause of the symptom to a relatively minor cause. We always want to err on the side of not missing an important condition. 

The signs of coronary artery disease or blockage of the arteries of the heart are often atypical for women. Some studies indicate that about a third of women have atypical or unusual symptoms.  So instead of getting the crushing chest pain (that you see in the movies when a man has a heart attack) women can experience a combination of nausea, atypical pain, fatigue, or pain in the arms or neck. Coronary artery disease is not just a male disease despite the stereotype that is out there.  Coronary artery disease is a treatable and manageable condition, especially if it is treated early, and a patient can make important lifestyle adjustments. 

So Madeline from Indiana - listen to your body. If you are worried, get checked out. Even if you do check out perfectly, this is a great age to take a look at your personal health profile and make sure that your blood pressure is good, your lipids are managed, you are on a good activity program and that your diet and weight are optimal. And for goodness sake, if you smoke, find a way to quit. Take some time to take care of yourself. 

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Updated June 2013
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