Chest pain during pregnancy can have many different causes. Most of these causes are related to the normal changes your body undergoes in pregnancy and are not dangerous. However, sometimes chest pain in pregnancy can be a sign of something much more serious.
Chest Pain Emergency
It's not unusual for women to occasionally have some pain in the chest area during pregnancy. Most often, it is mild, comes and goes, and is not accompanied by any other symptoms. However, if you are pregnant and you experience chest pain that manifests itself in any of the following ways, immediately contact your health care provider:
- Sudden chest pain, especially if you also have a cough or shortness of breath.
- Chest pain that radiates down either arm.
- Chest pain accompanied by fever.
- Chest pain with shortness of breath, dizziness, or unusual sweating.
Having one of these symptoms does not necessarily mean that there is something seriously wrong, but it might indicate a problem with either heart or lung function, so it's imperative that you are assessed by a professional. If you have any of the additional symptoms listed (fever, shortness of breath, sudden cough, dizziness, or unusual sweating), call your health care provider even if the chest pain is not severe.
Other Causes of Chest Pain During Pregnancy
Usually chest pain during pregnancy is not caused by anything remotely life-threatening. More commonly, this pain is caused by the normal processes of pregnancy and the added physical stressors of adapting to the growing fetus.
Chest Pain from Heartburn
One almost universal cause of chest pain during pregnancy is heartburn. Hormones that increase in pregnancy in order to maintain the uterine lining also soften the ligaments that keep the lower esophageal sphincter closed. When the lower esophageal sphincter is relaxed, acid and stomach contents can reflux back into the throat and the esophagus, causing the characteristic burning and sour taste associated with heartburn and acid reflux. In addition, the physical pressure of the growing baby pushing into the diaphragm and the stomach also contribute to heartburn-related chest pain in pregnant women.
To decrease the discomfort from heartburn, try:
- Eating smaller amounts of food more frequently instead of three large meals.
- Sleeping with head and shoulders propped up on pillows.
- Avoiding spicy foods.
- Avoiding greasy foods.
- Drinking fluids in between meals instead of with meals.
- Avoiding alcohol and smoking.
- Wearing clothing that fits loosely at the waist.
Muscular Chest Pain
Some pregnant women experience chest pain because of strain on the muscles and ligaments in their chest area from the weight of their pregnant abdomen. Not much can be done to avoid this kind of pain. However, soaking in a warm bath or taking a warm shower can sometime help alleviate the worst discomfort. Taking frequent breaks during the day and avoiding heavy lifting can decrease pain as well.
Sometimes, what pregnant women describe as chest pain is actually breast pain, particularly during the first and third trimesters. Breast pain in pregnancy is caused by increased blood flow to the breasts and hormone releases in preparation for breastfeeding. Mild breast discomfort is normal, although some women find that the support of wearing a snug fitting sports bra at all times helps alleviate it. If you have severe pain in your breasts or pain in only one breast or one area of one breast, particularly if you have a fever, you should be checked by a health care provider, as this can be a sign of a clogged duct or an infection.
Exercise Responsible Caution
Although in the vast majority of cases, chest pain in pregnant women has a relatively harmless cause, only your health care provider can make the ultimate determination. Protect yourself and your baby by communicating with your doctor or midwife about chest pain you may have during pregnancy.