How is dairy causing chest pain?
May 17, 2011 9:13 AM   Subscribe

Do you have any ideas on why I have chest pain when I eat dairy?

In December, I started having chest pains that were fairly constant, high in my chest and occasionally shooting into my shoulders. I have been working with my doctor since then to discover what is going on, and I have had a chest x-ray, EKG, running stress test, and endoscopy, which were all normal. We have ruled out heart problems and GERD. My allergist thought that it was possible that the pain was from asthma, although I don't feel particularly short of breath when I have pain.

We decided to treat this as asthma, and I have been using an inhaled steroid for about a month. Since December, I have thought that the pain seems to be related to what I eat. I starting paying more attention to when I had pain and what I ate, and I found a strong correlation to dairy foods. When I was at the allergist, I also was skin tested for a milk allergy, and that was negative. About the same time that I started the inhaled steroids, I also started avoiding all dairy. After a week, since I had tested negative for a milk allergy, I had a milkshake to test my dairy theory. Later that evening, I was in horrible pain. Since then, I have completely avoided dairy, and the pain has gotten better until now I have been pain-free for about a week. I'm convinced that dairy is the problem, but what is the mechanism? Is dairy causing asthma, even though I don't test allergic to it? I don't believe that I am lactose intolerant because I don't have any of the classic symptoms (lower abdomen pain, throwing up, diarrhea), but maybe there are atypical cases? What else could be causing this?

I am pleased that I seem to have found a way to control the pain, but I'd like to understand what is going on. My doctors have been mostly good to work with, but there is certainly an attitude that now that we can control the symptoms, they aren't concerned about the cause. I would like to find a plausible explanation of why this is happening for myself and possibly to follow up with them on.

I don't want to post this anonymously, so I am going to be a bit vague. I am an otherwise healthy 35-45 year old woman. I have normal blood pressure and cholesterol. I have many hayfever and food allergies, but no other chronic illnesses. I've done my best to condense four months of medical tests and exploration into a brief-ish description, so I am happy to answer any questions that might help you answer the question. Thanks so much for any ideas you might have.
posted by amj to Health & Fitness (7 answers total)
I'm not gluten intolerant or allergic to wheat, but if I eat starches (bread, cookies, muffins, etc) on an empty stomach, I get horrible heatrburn. The kind of heartburn that causes chest pain and forces me to take very shallow breaths. Unfortunately, antacids and the like don't help very much. Maybe you're having a similar reaction to dairy.
posted by ValkoSipuliSuola at 9:50 AM on May 17, 2011

Sounds like it could be the gall bladder.

My boss had a very similar response to dairy until she had an attack of gall stones and had to have it removed.
posted by fifteen schnitzengruben is my limit at 9:56 AM on May 17, 2011

Is it all dairy? Can you eat hard cheeses like cheddar or parmesan without pain? What about yogurt? If all dairy gives you trouble, it might be a reaction to a protein called casein.

Has anyone checked your gallbladder? Maybe it's the fat in the dairy that is causing trouble.
posted by sugarfish at 9:57 AM on May 17, 2011

Yeah--sounds like a gall bladder attack to me too, which often occurs after fatty meals, like dairy. My gall bladder attacks manifested themselves through my back, on the left side, under my shoulder blade. The pain was pretty intense and could have been through my arms too.
posted by fyrebelley at 10:08 AM on May 17, 2011

Well, hmm, menopause and pre-menopause change the way you process fats. (sorry I don't have a citation for that) And for me, after years of eating trans fats, when I turned 45, all of a sudden eating trans fats gave me chest pain. Creamy salad dressings almost killed me. I can eat dairy, no problem.
posted by cda at 10:14 AM on May 17, 2011

Sugarfish and fyrebelley had the same idea as I -- gallbladder problem. A friend of mine recently had her gallbladder removed and my grandmother was diagnosed with it as well. The chest pains is one of the symptoms. I'd ask your doctor to test for that.
posted by bionic.junkie at 11:45 AM on May 17, 2011

Response by poster: Thank you all for the gallbladder suggestions. I don't know why that didn't come up after we were sure it wasn't a heart or acid-reflux issue. I will ask about it.
posted by amj at 2:15 PM on May 17, 2011

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