You’ve just gotten used to the sleepless nights, constant munchies, and frequent bladder-emptying trips to the bathroom. But now you’re having chest pain, you’re worried — is this another normal pregnancy symptom, or is it something more?
Chest pain during pregnancy can be worrying, but it’s not necessarily uncommon. There can be many reasons for it — and most of the time, it has nothing to do with your heart.
But in rare cases, chest pain while you’re pregnant might be linked to a serious health condition. Here’s what to know about chest pain during pregnancy and when to see a doctor.
Especially as your pregnancy progresses, all the changes and shifts in your body can bump up your heart rate so that it’s higher than usual. Your growing baby may also push up on your stomach and lungs.
For this (perfectly normal) reason, you might have chest pain as well as:
- shortness of breath
- difficulty breathing while sleeping or lying down flat (try these pregnancy pillows for more comfort)
- heart palpitations
- fast heart rate
- low blood pressure
The excitement of a new pregnancy can quickly turn into anxiety and stress if you’re just beginning to show and experiencing physical changes or if this is your first pregnancy after a previous loss. You might be feeling stressed or anxious, or even have a panic attack.
This can happen at any time during your pregnancy, but especially early on when you’re still getting used to the idea of a new (demanding) bundle of joy or are worried about the health of your baby.
All of these feelings can give you physical symptoms like chest pain. You may also have:
- chest tightness
- feelings of jitteriness
- fast breathing
- difficulty concentrating
Sometimes, the first signs that you’re pregnant are nausea and vomiting. Morning sickness can happen at any time of the day (and sometimes night). It’s caused by the spiking hormones that your body starts making when you get pregnant.
All the nausea and vomiting can sometimes cause temporary weight loss and even dehydration.
Serious morning sickness can lead to chest pain. You might feel chest pain when acidic vomit repeatedly irritates your throat. The constant retching can also tire out your stomach and chest muscles, causing muscle pain.
If you have asthma, it might get worse while you’re pregnant. This may give you more severe asthma symptoms than you’re used to and can lead to chest tightness, shortness of breath, and chest pain during pregnancy.
Lung infections, a chest cold, severe allergies, or pneumonia during pregnancy can also cause chest pain. A normal flu or cold can make you feel more under the weather during pregnancy. Chest pain from lung conditions can happen at any time, including the first trimester.
Let your doctor know immediately if you develop any new illnesses or flu-like symptoms during pregnancy that result in a fever.
Acid reflux can cause chest pain that really feels like your heart is burning. This very common cause of chest pain during pregnancy has nothing to do with your heart. Heartburn pain typically happens near the middle of your chest. The pain might go up to your throat.
Chest pain from heartburn happens because acid from the stomach splashes up into the esophagus, the tube that runs from the mouth down to the stomach.
Higher levels of the hormone progesterone during pregnancy might be to blame. This hormone relaxes the round sphincter muscles that normally close off the opening at the top of the stomach. This leaking, plus the extra nudging on the stomach as your baby grows, leads to heartburn and chest pain during pregnancy.
While heartburn may be more common in the second and third trimesters, some women also have it in the first trimester.
Gassiness can cause bloating, odors, and sounds you hope nobody else hears. Gas can also cause chest pain during pregnancy. This is sometimes called indigestion.
Indigestion happens when gas is stuck in the upper part of your stomach. If you’re gassy, you might feel chest pain in the lower or upper part of your chest — close enough to your heart to make you worry.
Chest pain from gassiness is more common in your second or third trimester, as your growing baby pushes up on the stomach. But it can happen earlier in the first trimester. Changing pregnancy hormones can throw a wrench into your normal digestion, leading to more gassiness than usual.
Pregnancy makes you more — err — voluptuous as your body gets ready to feed your baby. Hormonal changes during pregnancy mean you might go up several bra sizes! However, the new curves also mean added weight on your chest. This can lead to chest pain during pregnancy.
If you have smaller breasts to begin with, you may have more pain as you fill out. Chest pain from growing breasts is typically worst in your third trimester, but you can experience some chest pain or breast tenderness beginning in the first trimester.
You know your body undergoes miraculous changes during pregnancy, but did you know even your bones move? Along with your blossoming belly, the rib cage also expands during pregnancy. This mostly happens in the third trimester, but it can happen as early as the second trimester.
This can make the rubbery cartilage that connects the ribs to the breastbone stretch out, leading to pain and tenderness. Rib pain, or costochondritis, can cause stabbing chest pain during pregnancy. It can also make it painful to breathe deeply late in your pregnancy.
A blood clot in the lungs or a pulmonary embolism (PE) is a rare cause of chest pain. But it’s serious.
This life threatening condition happens when a blood clot causes a blockage in the lungs. You’re at higher risk if you have overweight or obesity during pregnancy, and if you have a history of a blood clot or genetic disorder such as factor V Leiden, which predisposes you to clots.
Pregnant women can get a pulmonary embolism during or after labor and childbirth. In very rare cases, it can also happen late in pregnancy, during the third trimester.
A pulmonary embolism causes symptoms like:
- chest pain when taking a deep breath
- pain when coughing
- fast heart rate
- leg swelling
Let a doctor know immediately if you suspect you may have a blood clot.
Serious heart conditions
While these conditions aren’t likely, it’s always important to let your doctor know if you have chest pain so these can be ruled out.
Most causes of chest pain during pregnancy are normal. You won’t need medical treatment. Depending on the cause of your chest pain, you can sometimes help soothe it with home treatments.
Tips for chest pain while pregnant include:
- Try meditating, listening to relaxing music, and envisioning holding your baby in your arms if you have anxiety.
- Schedule a visit with a therapist or behavioral health provider to discuss anxiety, if self-management fails.
- Eat several, smaller meals to help relieve nausea and vomiting.
- Avoid spicy foods.
- Avoid other foods that might make your heartburn worse. Common food culprits are tomatoes, dairy, chocolate, mint, and citrus fruits.
- Avoid eating foods that make you gassy, like processed foods and sugary foods.
- Drink ginger tea to help soothe nausea.
- Use a cold compress to help relieve swelling and muscle pain.
- Apply a warm compress or hot water bottle to help soothe muscle and rib pain.
- Wear a bra that gives you firm support but isn’t too tight and doesn’t have an underwire (none of the frilly stuff for now!).
- Lie on your side to help take the pressure off your chest and lungs.
- Sleep or lie down with a body pillow to help support the extra weight.
See your doctor immediately if you have chest pain that doesn’t go away, is severe, or if you have other symptoms that happen even when you’re resting or lying down. Some pregnant women can get high blood pressure and other conditions that may affect the heart.
Get urgent medical attention if you have:
- severe shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
- sudden breathlessness
- chest pain that worsens when coughing
- excessive nausea and vomiting
- heart palpitations
- a racing heart rate
- headache pain
- blurred vision
- dark urine or peeing less than usual
- leg or ankle swelling
- leg or ankle swelling on one side only
- swelling of the face or anywhere in your body
- calf muscle pain or leg pain
Tell your doctor if you have chest pain during pregnancy and if you’ve ever had varicose veins or blood clots. Also, let your doctor know if your mother or anyone else in your immediate family has a history of heart disease, stroke, blood clots, or varicose veins. You might have a higher risk of getting a pulmonary embolism if it runs in your family.
Most pregnant women don’t need treatment for chest pain. But your doctor might prescribe medical treatment if you have severe chest pain during pregnancy or if the underlying cause doesn’t go away or is serious.
Medication or treatment for an underlying cause of chest pain can help prevent it. For example, your doctor might change your asthma medication during pregnancy to help prevent chest pain.
If you have serious morning sickness, your doctor might recommend medication and intravenous fluids to help control the nausea and vomiting.
Wearing compression socks and getting up to walk every so often can help prevent blood clots in your legs — and anywhere else in the body. Your doctor may also prescribe a blood-thinning medication called heparin after you have your baby to help prevent blood clots.
If you have blood pressure issues, you may need medication or a medication adjustment that only your doctor can prescribe.
Chest pain during pregnancy isn’t usually something to worry about. Most causes of chest pain have nothing to do with your heart. Stress, a cold, asthma, and other common conditions can lead to chest pain when you’re pregnant.
The added weight of your new baby, changing body, and shifting organs can also cause chest pain. In rare cases, chest pain and other symptoms may be a sign of a more serious health condition. Tell your doctor if you have severe symptoms or if you don’t feel quite right.