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Oct 08, 2013

Chronic Chest Pain Interferes with Work Ability

Study finds chest pain causes many patients to file for disability, regardless of a heart disease diagnosis.

As you might imagine, chronic chest pain can take a serious toll on quality of life. Many patients with heart disease experience this debilitating symptom and find themselves unable to carry out normal activities, including their job. But according to a recent study, it’s not just patients with heart disease whose chest pain limits their ability to remain in the workforce.

Coronary artery disease, or significant narrowing of the arteries, is usually the cause of chronic chest pain. Narrowed arteries prevent the heart from getting as much blood as it needs, which can cause tightening in the chest. But that’s not always the case. In fact, it’s estimated that nearly two-thirds of women and one-third of men who see their doctor after experiencing chest pain for the first time are not diagnosed with coronary artery disease.

That’s why researchers wondered what the impact is of unexplained chest pain on one’s ability to carry out normal activities, like holding a job. Can patients with and without diagnosed heart disease both experience chest pain that can prevent them from working? According to study findings, the answer is yes.

This study was recently published in the European Heart Journal and compared disability trends among more than 5,000 individuals with and without heart disease and chronic chest pain. Compared to those without chest pain, researchers found that patients experiencing frequent chest pain were three times more likely to be on disability and 50% more likely to leave the workforce prematurely (before retirement age)—regardless of whether their arteries were healthy or not. In other words, chronic chest pain drastically increases a patient’s likelihood of being on disability, regardless of whether they’re diagnosed with heart disease. Interestingly, researchers also found that being on disability was associated with older age, higher body mass index, diabetes, smoking, lower income, and lower education level, to name a few.

These findings highlight the importance of understanding the many underlying conditions causing chest pain. Although chest pain can be caused by heart disease and other heart conditions, sometimes it can be difficult to identify a palpable cause.  And the problem is that without knowing the underlying cause of chest pain, you can’t do much to treat it. Without much relief, patients experiencing chronic chest pain can become unable to perform normal activities and may stop working. Experts hope that this study sparks future research aimed at identifying the many causes of chest pain and improve treatments to help patients maintain their quality of life.

Questions for You to Consider

  • Who is at risk for angina?
  • Those at greatest risk for angina include individuals with heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, or a family history of heart disease. Excess stress, smoking, older age and a lack of exercise can also increase risk for angina. Fortunately, most of these risk factors can be reduced by working with your doctor and making positive lifestyle changes.
  • How is angina treated?

  • Angina can be treated in a variety of ways, including lifestyle changes, medications, and medical procedures. For example, quitting smoking, losing weight and reducing stress can help successfully treat angina in some patients. For others, medications like beta blockers or procedures such as angioplasty and stenting may be necessary to treat the condition.

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