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 Medical Self-Care: Women's Health: Chest Pain 
 
Chest pain can be a warning sign for many things. It is most often linked to a heart attack, especially in men. Women should be just as concerned though, since heart disease causes more deaths for them than any other ailment. Chest pain can also be a symptom of mitral valve prolapse (MVP), a heart valve problem that occurs twice as often in women than in men. It can also result from lung problems including pneumonia, bronchitis and lung injuries. A hiatal hernia, heartburn, shingles, pulled muscle and even swallowing too much air (aerophagia) can cause chest pain.

It is not always easy to know whether or not to seek medical treatment for chest pain. Generally speaking, when in doubt, check it out. Prompt medical treatment for a heart attack or severe lung injury could be life saving.

Question to ask

Did the chest pain result from a serious injury? Is it persistent and/or getting worse? Yes: Seek Care
No
Does the chest pain occur in a woman with a history of heart problems or history of angina and not respond to prescribed medicine? Yes: Seek Care
No
Does the chest pain occur in a woman who has had a recent operation or illness that has kept her in bed? Yes: Seek Care
No
    Do you have any of these problems with the chest pain?
  • Pain that spreads (radiates) to the arm, neck or jaw.
  • Feeling of pressure, especially on the left side.
  • Heart palpitations (heart rhythm problems).
  • Shortness of breath or difficulty in breathing.
  • Nausea and/or vomiting.
  • Sweating.
  • Irregular pulse.
  • Sense of doom.
Yes: Seek Care
No
    Do you have any of these problems with the chest pain?
  • Light-headedness.
  • Fatigue.
  • Dizziness, fainting.
  • Anxiety.
  • A heart murmur heard by a health care provider.
Yes: See Doctor
No
Does the chest pain come with a sudden difficulty with breathing? Does it worsen when taking deep breaths? Yes: See Doctor
No
    Are one of more of the following present?
  • Fever.
  • Cough with sputum of any color (pink, green, gray-yellow, etc.).
Yes: See Doctor
No
Does the chest pain last longer than two days? Yes: See Doctor
No
Does chest pain stop with antacids? Yes: See Doctor
No
Does belching and/or a burning sensation in the upper abdomen come with the chest pain? Does the chest pain come and go before, during or after eating and does it worsen when bending or lying down? Yes: See Doctor
No
Was there sudden chest pain after taking oral contraceptives? Yes: See Doctor
No
    Is the chest pain:
  • Only on one side of the chest?
  • Unaffected by breathing?
  • Accompanied by a burning feeling and a skin rash at the pain site?
Yes: See Doctor
No
No: Self-care

Self-Care Procedures

    Self-care procedures for chest pain that results from a pulled muscle or minor injury to the rib cage:
  • Do not strain the muscle or ribs while pain is felt.
  • Rest.
  • Take a pain reliever such as acetaminophen, ibuprofen or naproxen sodium. Avoid aspirin if you have or suspect you have a stomach ulcer.

    [Note: Do not give aspirin or any medication containing salicylates to anyone 19 years of age or younger unless directed by a physician, due to its association with Reye’s Syndrome, a potentially fatal condition.]
  • Do call your doctor, though, if the pain lasts longer than two days.
    Self-care procedures for chest pain associated with hiatal hernia and heartburn:
  • Lose weight if you are overweight.
  • Eat small, frequent meals (5 - 6 per day) instead of 3 meals a day. Do not eat large meals.
  • Avoid tobacco, alcohol, coffee, spicy foods, peppermint, chocolate and citrus juices.
  • If you have heartburn, take antacids after meals and before going to bed
  • Do not eat food or drink milk two hours before going to bed.
  • Avoid bending over or lying down after eating.
  • Do not wear tight clothing, tight belts or girdles.
  • Raise the head of your bed about 3 to 4 inches (40 degree angle), when you sleep.
    Self-care procedures for chest pain that results from anxiety and hyperventilation:
  • Avoid anxiety-producing situations, if possible.
  • Talk over the source of your anxiety with family, friends and clergy. If this is not enough, you may need the help of a professional counselor or psychiatrist.
  • When you hyperventilate, cover your mouth and nose with a paper bag. Breathe into the paper bag slowly and re-breathe the air. Do this in and out at least 10 times. Remove the bag and breathe normally a few minutes. Repeat breathing in and out of the paper bag as needed.
  • Avoid using large amounts of aspirin or other salicylate-containing drugs.

[Note: Do not give aspirin or any medication containing salicylates to anyone 19 years of age or younger unless directed by a physician, due to its association with Reye’s Syndrome, a potentially fatal condition.]
    Self-care procedures for chest pain associated with mitral valve prolapse (MVP):
  • Eat healthy foods.
  • Avoid caffeine.
  • After checking with your doctor, exercise regularly to improve cardiovascular fitness.
  • Deal with and control stress and anxiety. Avoid anxiety-producing situations, if possible.
  • Don’t smoke.
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