“Is my bra too tight?” – a poem for heart patients

by Carolyn Thomas  ♥  @HeartSisters

Numbness in the lip. Persistent cough. Pain between shoulder blades. Buzzing elbows. I thought I’d heard just about every possible vague or unusual heart disease symptom in women so far, but there’s one that I had never heard about until just recently.  And since then, women seem to be coming out of the woodwork to add that they too have experienced this peculiar cardiac symptom.  

For example, one of my Mayo heart sisters (age 53, survivor of five – count ’em, FIVE heart attacks) recently wrote:

“After my second heart attack when a cardiologist asked if I had any symptoms leading up to my MI (myocardial infarction), I named several –  including telling him how one time I thought my bra was so tight that I unhooked it while driving home from work.

“He just stared at me and said nothing, and of course nothing was noted about the bra symptoms in my medical records from his exam.

“I think ‘bra feels too tight’ should be included in lists of heart attack symptoms.”

Dr. Mary Ann McLaughlin, Medical Director of the Cardiac Health Program at Mount Sinai Medical Center describes this as “feeling band-like pressure as if your bra is too tight.”

Another heart patient from New Zealand (age 48, diagnosed with coronary artery spasms) also wrote:

“My bra was my very first symptom over 1 1/2 years ago. I would often unhook my bra when I got in the car and before I got out to go anywhere I would hook it back up again. I would sometimes go into the loo and take off my bra in the middle of a work session!”

And here’s another report from Maine (age 55, heart attack in July 2011):

“One of the earlier symptoms of my heart attack was the tenderness I would feel around my ribs, especially along the sides when wearing a bra. I couldn’t wait to get home from work, rip that puppy holder off and throw on a T-shirt! Felt exactly like suffocating.”

But best of all, consider this ode to too-tight bras from Annette in Pennsylvania (age 42, Coronary Microvascular Disease) – republished here with her kind permission:

Is My Bra Too Tight?

“I’m out and about
The sky is blue
I feel the breeze at my skirt
As I converse with you

Tightness and squeezing
Making me squirm
Is my bra now too tight?
Hard to discern

As if something changed
Feels harder and heavy
Like plated armor
Unbending and weighty

It’s nice to be here
Social and engaging
I can’t concentrate
Focus on all this encaging

I want it all gone
Tightness of any sort
Rip off the confines
And get back to my torte

Sneakily pinch twist
The front enclosure
Ahhh, release the elastic
Pressure a bit better

Pop a nitro and smile
Hoping this is the trick
Back to my torte
You flash a smile, but quick

No long escape
From this heart constriction
You knowingly nod
Not a hint of friction

It’s there . . . the squeezing
Managing still
The ache and the pain
An unpleasant frill

I sigh . . .  you pay
Then fetch the car
Back to bra-less, feet up
Glad home is not far!”

♥    ♥    ♥

See Annette’s guest post called “School’s In Every Day for Heart Patients.

UPDATE: July 30, 2014: Thanks to my Toastmasters friend Patti L.L. for her tip that wearing an ill-fitting bra may also cause chest pains that mimic heart attack symptoms even when there are no cardiac issues at all. Too-tight, underwired or sports bras can add stress on bones and muscles by pressing on the rib cage, which in turn puts pressure on the diaphragm. Muscles that run from the upper part of the cervical spine and attach to the upper ribs can also be restricted by wearing tight bras. Sports bras should not be worn all day long for this reason.


Q:  Have you experienced a ‘bra too tight’ feeling that did turn out to be a cardiac symptom?

See also:

How Women Can Tell If They’re Headed for a Heart Attack

How Does it Really Feel to Have a Heart Attack? Women Survivors Tell Their Stories

Misdiagnosed: Women’s Coronary Microvascular and Spasm Pains

“What Was That?” A Poem for Heart Attack Survivors

Inspire’s WomenHeart online support community (where you’ll find more poems, wisdom, support, questions and answers from over 40,000+ heart disease survivors)


 ♥  This post was republished by the Texas Heart Institute Women’s Health & Vascular Health newsletter, under Hot Topics On Women’s Heart Health. It also ranked #9 on the Top 10 Most-Read Heart Sisters Posts list for 2014.

NOTE FROM CAROLYN:   I wrote much more about women’s unique cardiac symptoms in my book, “A Woman’s Guide to Living with Heart Disease”. You can ask for it at your local library or favourite bookshop, or order it online (paperback, hardcover or e-book) at Amazon, or order it directly from my publisher, Johns Hopkins University Press (use their code HTWN to save 20% off the list price).



42 thoughts on ““Is my bra too tight?” – a poem for heart patients

  1. My bra was suddenly tight. The doctor thought I was crazy ( mental illness was suggested in my notes) and I was treated as a mentally ill patient – but all the time I had pneumonia. Untreated pneumonia for so long.

    I found another doctor


    1. Hi Glenda – good grief! Undiagnosed untreated pneumonia can be dangerous! I’m sorry you went through all that – I hope your recovery went well.

      Take care, and stay safe. . . ♥


  2. After a quick check to see if your site is still active, I’ve decided to comment. Hopefully, you’ll see this, but if not, at least I tried.

    I used to have an “unknown issue that seemed like a heart attack, but could’ve been bile duct blockage”. Haven’t had it in years, but yesterday experienced something similar. Yours was the only article that came close- “Why did I feel that way after putting on my sports bra?”.

    I still don’t really know what happened yesterday, but thanks for at least putting something out there. I had my basic smartwatch on, which didn’t record a change in BPM. So I guess I’m alright? I’m not chancing going into a COVID-infested hospital for nothing. Watch doesn’t have the EKG feature.

    I know you aren’t a doctor, but thanks for helping me feel like I’m not crazy. God forbid you mention a bra in a Dr’s office…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hello Deb – YES, your comment came through loud and clear! And NO you are not crazy.

      Your question about “after putting on my sports bra” is interesting. Sports bras are blamed for all kinds of unpleasant symptoms, perhaps because 8 out of 10 women wear the wrong size sports bra, sometimes even two bras at once to help decrease breast movement during exercise. And it’s not just sports bras – few of us are properly fitted in the bra department by a professional before purchasing any bra!

      If you suspect that your symptoms started after you put on your sports bra, that seems like an important clue.

      If I were you, I’d try keeping track to see if there’s a correlation between your sports bra and these symptoms. If they continue, or worsen, do NOT be afraid to talk about bras to your doctor!

      Take care, stay safe. . . ♥


  3. Hi, what tests did you have done to diagnose your chest pain? I have had chest pain/pressure/squeezing for five months now and they can’t figure out why. I had an Echo, CT scan, and multiple EKGs and they came back normal. They claimed that I had acid refux but after taking multiple reflux meds, I still have the pain. I can no longer wear a bra and it feels like I still have one on even though I don’t.

    I am going back to see a cardiologist next week to demand more tests. I am so glad that I found this website!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hello N – I’m not a physician so cannot comment specifically on your experience so far, but it sounds like you’ve had several diagnostic tests so far that are commonly used to help rule out heart disease. I’m glad you’ll be seeing a cardiologist next week to help solve the mystery.

      Right now, you just don’t know if your chest symptoms are heart-related or not (it’s entirely likely that they are not) but SOMETHING is causing them, so you need to find out what!

      It may reassure you to know that about 85% of all patients admitted to hospital for chest pain turn out NOT to have heart disease. Some examples here of other possible alternative causes… Good luck to you…


  4. I read through the article and comments and can’t find an experience like mine. I feel the bra tightness when I’m not wearing a bra and haven’t been all day long. I have CAD, so this is a little disconcerting. It happens every day while I’m sitting in a recliner using the laptop. Very uncomfortable and distracting, and – yes – I want to unhook my bra “that isn’t there.” Anyone with similar experience?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I don’t have personal experience with that specific symptom, but I’m wondering if it is like Dr. McLaughlin’s description of “feeling band-like pressure as if your bra is too tight” – not necessarily wearing a bra that’s too tight, but a pressure that feels that way. What do you think? If you have been prescribed nitro, does the tightness ease up when you take it?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. That’s exactly what it’s like.The pressure of a tight bra, but no bra there. I catch myself trying to loosen it, then realize there’s nothing to loosen. I tried nitro just this morning, as an experiment, and it seems to make no difference.


  5. I was on vacation in June 2016 and getting ready to leave my hotel room. Quite suddenly, my bra felt very uncomfortable – way too tight! I was headed to lunch at a local restaurant. After ordering my meal, I suddenly began to sweat, had pain in my jaw, was nauseous and had pain shooting horizontally across the top of my chest!

    My husband took me to the local emergency room. All tests were negative, except one showed my heart beating “not as vigorously as it should” in one area. I was released, being told that I was probably ok.

    After arriving home a few days later, the same symptoms started again. Once again, I went to the ER, had the full series of tests done (all negative) and was told that I was ok and that I should see a Cardiologist. The next day I had an appointment with a cardiologist, who told me that because I had no heart disease risks and because I was very healthy and walking 4 miles per day, I was probably ok.

    The next day the symptoms began again, even worse than before! I went to the ER AGAIN! The same cardiologist that I had seen the day before told me that he would have a heart catheterization done just to prove that the problem wasn’t my heart. A heart catheterization was done the next day — and oops! My LAD (left anterior descending) artery was 80-90% blocked! I had to go to an ER 3 times before I could get the help that I needed!


    And, I still am very uncomfortable wearing a bra and don’t wear one unless absolutely necessary!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Hi Denise – three trips to the ER before a correct diagnosis? That’s awful!!! Sadly, as you know, your story is not uncommon in women.

      Good for you for being persistent in returning to seek help. Too many women (like me for example) are too embarrassed to keep going back to the ER for fear we’ll just be sent home again after making a fuss over “nothing”.

      You did the right thing, and your advice is 100% correct!

      Liked by 1 person

    2. Yes have had trouble with bras for the last year and a half …had a heart attack and two stents last October ..still struggling to find something comfortable …boobs are a bit big to be let loose ! Any advice ?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Hi Lesley – a woman in one of my Heart-Smart Women audiences told me that her life got a whole lot more comfy after she discovered sports bras. Not the super-firm ones that marathon runners need, but a softer version with wider straps for support but NO pinchy underwires or tight bands that can curl up. Here’s a link to a good list of possibilities, reviewed by real women.


    3. Hi Denise!
      Diagnosed with Atrial Fibrillation two years ago. Fortunately it only happens infrequently and just for a few seconds. What does trigger it for me though is wearing a bra! Especially an underwire.

      So I’ve stopped wearing one and just use an “undershirt” instead. I did tell my doctor and he didn’t dismiss me, but let’s just say I don’t think he quite believed me. It works for me so that’s all that matters!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Underwire bras should come with hazard warnings! Another example (along with stiletto heels) of how women force themselves into painful (and possibly unhealthy) contraptions for the sake of style. . . Don’t get me started, Beth!

        I suspect that your doctor’s not alone in his (I noted that he’s a male) lack of enthusiasm in believing your symptoms. I hope that since you’ve burned your underwire bras (figuratively) your AFib symptoms have decreased. . .

        Take care, stay safe. . .


    1. Hi Sarah – I’m not a psychiatrist but I am betting that you are not, in fact, crazy. I can’t say for sure if your SVT* is being triggered by a bra, but if you are indeed noticing a correlation between wearing a bra and resulting symptoms, you’re doing an “n=1” experiment of your own – specially if you notice that it’s only one kind of bra, or one specific bra, that seems to impact you. On the other hand, if sometimes wearing a bra causes no increase in symptoms yet other times it does, that may not be a study that’s reliable in coming to a conclusion!

      * SVT (Supraventricular Tachycardia) is an occasional rapid heart rate (150-250 beats per minute). For other translations of complex cardiology terms, visit my patient-friendly, jargon-free Heart Sisters glossary.


  6. Hello! I tried to find the poem. I so need a laugh! I am 55. Had a valve replaced a couple of months ago. My best friend (the same age, who died a month later) had resorted to the athletic types, with the little modesty inserts although she pulled those out because they shift and if you’re not paying attention your girls will be pointing in opposite directions. I find these garments too hot and extremely unflattering. Not being able to dress comfortably really bugs me! If I could just get dressed I know I’d feel much better. And I just don’t feel dressed unless I’ve got all my undies on! Love the scarf idea but I live in the desert and it’s very hot and, as lovely as scarves are, they offer no support. It’s strange, but true, I believe a decent bra would help me get my life back!

    I just want my life back…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Kathy and thanks so much for sharing your perspective.You’ve had quite the past couple of months, with both your surgery and the death of a dear friend. My condolences to you on such a great loss. You are still in very early days (relatively speaking) since your valve replacement and I’m hoping that being able to dress comfortably (including all your undies) will come very soon. It may not get you your old life back, but it will be a big step towards it!


      1. Oh my goodness! Thank you, so much, for your reply! How I wish I knew someone like you! It would be awesome to have someone to talk to. Just your understanding of the depth of my grief, made me feel so much better!
        I haven’t figured out how to get to the posts (only the replies), but I will, and I’m sure they’ll help. There’s a list of issues after this type of surgery. Knowing others have the same issues is, in a very strange way, comforting. I am very sorry for their ailments, but relieved to know I am not alone in the way that I feel. Thank you… This is providing the energy I needed to not feel that I was right on my friend’s heals! Thank you for stepping out there, and for pulling others out. I’m sure you’re saving lives!


        1. Hi Kathy – are you reading this on your phone? I’ve had a couple readers lately having trouble reading posts via their mobile devices. If so, try checking on my site via a computer. Thanks so much – hang in there!


  7. Pingback: CreativitytotheMAX
  8. Hi Carolyn,
    Really it’s so funny reading such a poem.
    I like those lines very much.Thanks.
    “I want it all gone
    Tightness of any sort
    Rip off the confines
    And get back to my torte”


  9. It is NOT my intention to devalue heart disease but Annette’s poem is seriously hilarious or hilariously serious.

    (Interesting that we women are masters of deception, both with breast augmentation and our own life threatening symptoms)

    Excellent and important post, Carolyn, thank you always.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for your comment, Judy/Judith – “masters of deception” (or is that “mistresses” of deception?!) Sounds like that could be a blog topic all to itself someday.


  10. OMG! Once again, I thought I was the only one with this feeling. I’ve had an extremely hard time wearing a bra ever since my heart attack. The pressure and anxiety can be unbearable! I usually go braless, or wear a camisole. If I do wear one, it never lasts that long b4 i take it off. Certain friends have suggested i buy nipple covers at $50.00 a pop. Really? I am small framed & chested & do not bear all. Always wondered why showing a lot of cleavage was socially acceptable, but apparently, going braless is shamed. Thanks for posting!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m entering this here because I couldn’t find anywhere else to leave a reply to the original blog. I did a search on heart attacks and bras because I thought I might have had one, and it seemed to start with my bra.

      I was driving in May of this year, out in the middle of nowhere, no traffic, no houses around and no idea how to tell anyone where I was, when I felt a pressure across my chest, that seemed to be along the bra line. I remember wondering why my bra felt so tight all of a sudden. I tried adjusting it, pulling it away from my chest, anything to get that pressure off my chest. Then I got a very bad pain in my back, between my shoulder blades, and thought my posture had probably been poor while driving, and tried sitting up straighter to take that pressure off my back.

      Then it hurt on the right side of my neck and jaw and down into my right arm. I just didn’t feel good at all. Called the office and asked the receptionist to look up heart attack symptoms in women. Told her what I was feeling and she said it seemed I was having a lot of the symptoms. But since I was in the middle of nowhere and couldn’t describe where I was at, I decided to keep driving.

      About a half an hour later, I was feeling better. The pressure was gone. I still wasn’t feeling a 100% but it wasn’t that crushing feeling anymore and the pain had eased up in my back. So I went home. I decided to look up heart attacks, women, and bras and saw the link to this blog.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Pretty scary experience when you are driving, and out in the middle of nowhere! This happened to you a few months ago – I’m hoping these symptoms are not still happening. If they do come back, seek immediate medical attention.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. I’m still having the skipped heart beats, but do have an appointment with a cardiologist on Monday. And when I began to suspect it was a heart attack, that’s when it got scary for me, because there was no one around for miles and miles. Luckily, it obviously wasn’t too bad of one, and I was okay, but I’m going to get it checked out.


  11. Counterpoint to the Bra (a reply to Annette, from an MVD friend)

    “When my bra felt like a tourniquet
    I stopped and wondered, “why”?
    Am I fatter or shorter?
    or having bad posture?
    It seemed so constant, I sighed

    “No matter, I shopped and I shopped
    Imagine how many I tried,
    I bought loose and floppy
    The size up and larger
    Until they made no sense, so I stopped

    “So, I’d like you to meet my new friends
    I have a wardrobe of colors of them
    They’re all long and light-y
    My go-to, alrighty?
    On them, I have come to depend

    “Oh, no, I’m not speaking of diapers!
    It’s scarves, the long ones and airy
    It wraps round my neck-icles
    And then wisps down my front
    with both sides covering my chest-icles

    “They save me from bras, I am thankful
    They cover my girls, so delightful
    They’re easy and pretty
    A collection for me
    The bra known as tourniquet, no more!”

    P.S. If I have to wear a bra, I have a quick release front opener and a scarf in my bag!

    Liked by 2 people

  12. Hi Carolyn,

    Nice work by Annette!

    I still have the email that I sent to my oncology surgeon in 2010 when my cardiac symptoms returned in which I told him that I had waited a weekend for the symptoms to go away (it was Easter weekend after all – didn’t want to bother him) and the symptoms were either due to

    a. all in my head and I was imagining things

    b. I’d gained weight but only in my chest as my bras were too tight (so that meant I must have lost some in my butt since the scale said weight was unchanged)

    c. a tumor had returned or some other problem

    It wasn’t until later that I found out that bra too tight was one of the first signs of cardiac problems – several research articles in Circulation.


    Liked by 1 person

      1. So true! I’m laughing and just shared this link. My “girls” love their freedom too. I’m betting there are many heart sisters with this symptom. Please pay attention, especially if you think your bra is too tight and you don’t even have one on!

        Liked by 1 person

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