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How does a woman know when her chest ache or tightness is serious?  

I've had a dull ache in the chest area for the past few weeks. Last month, I experienced a sudden tightness in the chest, but for a few seconds. Is there something I should worry about? I'm 38. 

submitted by Karla from Houston, Texas on 8/16/2013


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

Dear Karla, Thanks for your email. It is clear you are concerned and that concerns me. As a woman, it is important to listen to your body and get a thoughtful evaluation for chest pain because coronary artery disease is a woman's disease as much as it is a man's disease.

Chest pain may or may not be serious. Sometimes the pain is due to a muscle or a skeletal problem. Sometimes it is due to indigestion.  Those conditions are  usually treated with simple analgesia and supportive measures. Chest pain, however,  may represent something more serious - perhaps a blockage in an artery supplying your heart (called angina pain) and your doctor can help sort out dangerous pain from that pain which is not serious. 

Your doctor will ask lots of questions about the quality of the pain, about the setting in which the pain occurred and the duration of the pain. He or she will no doubt inquire if you had any other symptoms with the pain such as nausea or shortness of breath. 

All of this information will be put into context against a good personal medical history, as well as a complete family history. This will help your doctor think about your particular symptoms against a background of what are defined risk factors for coronary artery disease.  Some of these risk factors include diabetes, high blood pressure, smoking , high cholesterol and a  family history of coronary artery disease.  

If your doctor is concerned he or she may suggest an EKG or stress test which are diagnostic tests which may be considered to further sort out whether or not your symptoms are representative of coronary artery disease.  

Good for you for asking the question. Please discuss this with your doctor. 

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Updated August 2013
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