How to know if the pain in the left arm is related to the heart

Table of contents:

How to know if the pain in the left arm is related to the heart
How to know if the pain in the left arm is related to the heart

Left arm pain can arise from many conditions, from ordinary muscle pain to a serious heart attack. Abnormalities of the skin, soft tissue, nerves, bones, joints, and blood vessels in the arm can cause pain. It's easy to be too quick to say "I'm having a heart attack!" Your left arm hardly hurts, when in fact there could be another factor at play. To find out if your pain is heart-related, consider a number of possibilities and factors that increase the likelihood that it is a serious problem.


Part 1 of 2: Recognizing a heart attack

Step 1. Pay attention to the duration of the pain

If the pain in the left arm is of very short duration (seconds), it is very unlikely that it is due to the heart. Similarly, if the pain persists for a long time (for days or even weeks), it is also unlikely to be related to the heart. However, if it lasts from a few minutes to a few hours, it could be a heart attack. If the pain recurs in short intervals, write down all the pain durations and intensities on a piece of paper to take with you to the doctor. This could also be related to the heart and warrants immediate medical attention.

  • If pain arises or is accentuated when moving the chest (mid-spine), it is likely due to degenerative disc disease of the spine, especially in older patients. This type of pain is unlikely to be caused by the heart.
  • Likewise, when the pain appears after having done a vigorous exercise with the arms, its origin may be muscular. Observe your daily patterns. What seems to aggravate it?

Step 2. Consider other options

In addition to pain in your left arm, pay attention to other areas where you feel pain. This is one of the most accurate ways to know if your left arm pain is related to your heart (and if it is serious). The heart attack may be accompanied by the following symptoms:

  • Sudden, excruciating chest pain that spreads up the left arm. You can experience it in both arms, but it is usually felt in the left arm due to its closeness to the heart.
  • Jaw pain and stiffness felt in the lower jaw; it can occur on one side or both.
  • Radiating shoulder pain that feels like heaviness and pressure around the shoulder and chest area.
  • Dull pain in the back that is due to the presence of pain in the chest, jaw, neck and arm.
  • Keep in mind that the heart attack could also be "silent", that is, it can present without serious pain.
Go to Work when You Have a Severe Flu or Other Illness Step 13
Go to Work when You Have a Severe Flu or Other Illness Step 13

Step 3. Look for symptoms that are not related to pain

Aside from pain in the arm, jaw, neck, and back, there are other symptoms you may notice during a heart attack. These include:

  • sickness
  • lightheadedness or dizziness
  • cold sweat
  • shortness of breath or shortness of breath due to tightness in the chest
  • If you experience any of these symptoms along with the pain, it is best to see a doctor as soon as possible to rule out the possibility of a heart attack.
Go to Work when You Have a Severe Flu or Other Illness Step 17
Go to Work when You Have a Severe Flu or Other Illness Step 17

Step 4. Call the emergency medical service if you show the symptoms mentioned above

If you doubt your current condition, the safest thing to do is call the emergency medical service in your area so that they can quickly take you to the hospital and receive the necessary care. Always remember that if you have a heart attack, time is crucial and you should not waste a second since your life is in danger.

  • While you wait for emergency medical personnel to arrive, take 2 baby aspirin to lessen the severity of the heart attack. Aspirin works by preventing more blood clots from occurring. In addition, a blood clot in one of the coronary arteries (the arteries that surround the heart) is the cause of the onset of the heart attack (therefore, aspirin helps prevent the clot from getting worse).
  • Also take nitroglycerin if you have it on hand, while you wait for the ambulance to arrive. This can decrease chest pain and help you deal with symptoms until you get to the hospital (at which point your doctor may offer you additional pain relievers such as morphine).
Treat a Leaking Heart Valve Step 26
Treat a Leaking Heart Valve Step 26

Step 5. Take a series of diagnostic tests

If you suspect that you might be having a heart attack or other pain related to the heart, your doctor will perform various tests to determine and confirm the diagnosis. You will have an electrocardiogram (ECG) to evaluate your heart rhythm. This will present abnormalities in the case of a heart attack. They will also take blood tests, especially to check for elevated levels of cardiac enzymes in the bloodstream, which indicates stress on the heart.

Depending on the symptoms and how clear the diagnosis is to the doctor, you may have additional tests, such as an echocardiogram, chest X-ray, angiogram, or stress test

Step 6. Consider the possibility that the pain in your left arm is related to angina

Angina is pain that occurs whenever blood flow to the heart muscle is insufficient. Often it is a feeling of tightness. You may feel pain in your shoulders, chest, arms, back, or neck. It could also resemble the feeling of indigestion.

  • Although it is not normal for angina to appear only in the left arm, it is still possible.
  • Angina is usually made worse or caused by stress, either physical (for example, due to overexertion when climbing a flight of stairs) or emotional (for example, due to a heated conversation or a disagreement at work).
  • If you suspect that you have angina, it is important to seek medical attention as soon as possible. It is not life-threatening like a heart attack, but it does require proper evaluation and treatment.

Part 2 of 2: Exploring Noncardiac Causes

Get Rid of Stress Balls on Your Neck Step 1
Get Rid of Stress Balls on Your Neck Step 1

Step 1. See if you have pain related to neck movement

If the pain worsens when you move your neck or upper back, the cause could be cervical spondylosis. It is one of the most common causes of pain in the left arm. In fact, more than 90% of people over 65 years of age show signs of cervical spondylosis. This is a general term for age-related tears that affect the discs in the spine (especially in the neck area). This disease develops as the discs shrink and become dehydrated. It tends to worsen with age, as the back wears down.

  • Moving your neck and upper spine can help you determine the cause of pain. If movement intensifies pain, this is most likely due to cervical spondylosis.
  • The pain caused by the heart attack does not decrease or get worse when you move or apply pressure to the neck or spine.
Know if Left Arm Pain Is Heart Related Step 11
Know if Left Arm Pain Is Heart Related Step 11

Step 2. Check for pain when moving your shoulder

If your arm pain worsens when you move your shoulder, it could be shoulder arthritis. Many patients who come to the emergency room in fear of having a heart attack actually have arthritis. This is a disease that destroys the soft outer covering (cartilage) of the bone. As the cartilage wears off, the protective space between the bones narrows. When you move, the bones rub against each other and cause pain in your left shoulder or arm.

Although there is no definitive cure for shoulder arthritis, many pain relief treatment options are available. If this is your case, don't worry. It seems serious, but it is possible to stop its progress

Stop Shoulder Pains Step 1
Stop Shoulder Pains Step 1

Step 3. Know that if you lose function in your arm, it is likely a nerve injury

The nerves in the arm begin at the level of the spinal cord in the lower neck and form a bundle of nerves called the brachial plexus. This splits and gives rise to the nerves in the arm. Damage to these nerves from the shoulder to the hand produces a variety of pains, but this is usually related to a loss of arm function (such as numbness, tingling, or reduced range of motion). Your arm pain may be nervous in nature and have nothing to do with your heart.

Know if Left Arm Pain Is Heart Related Step 13
Know if Left Arm Pain Is Heart Related Step 13

Step 4. Take your pulse and blood pressure

If these are affected, the cause could be peripheral artery disease. This is due to atherosclerosis and is more common among smokers.

To determine if this is the real cause, the solution is a quick visit to the doctor to measure your blood pressure and heart rate

Get over a Celebrity Obsession Step 7
Get over a Celebrity Obsession Step 7

Step 5. Consider alternative diagnoses for arm pain

Try to remember any injuries you have recently suffered. Left arm pain could be related to an arm or shoulder injury from recent trauma. In very few cases, arm pain can be due to more serious conditions like cancer, but this is almost never the case. See your doctor if arm pain persists and you can't find any logical cause.

Popular by topic