Types of Heart Attack Symptoms: Arm Pain
You may be surprised to learn that heart attacks don’t always cause chest pain. Arm pain and heart attack can go hand-in-hand. Arm pain is a common ailment, so how can you tell if your arm pain is due to a heart attack or something far less serious, like a muscle strain?
Why are arm pain and heart attack connected?
Most often a heart attack occurs when a blood clot obstructs blood flow into your heart muscle (myocardial infarction). This commonly causes a cramping or squeezing pain in the center or right side of your chest. Heart attack symptoms are extremely variable, but sometimes the pain in your chest extends to one or both shoulders and arms.
In addition to shoulder and arm pain, you may also have pain, aching or discomfort in other areas of your upper body, such as your neck, jaw or back, without any chest pain. This happens more commonly in women than in men.
What else could cause my arm pain?
When your arm aches or is painful, it is most often due to a condition that is not as serious as a heart attack. Common causes of arm pain include:
Arm or shoulder muscle stress or strain due to over exercising and activities, such as sleeping in an awkward position
Bursitis, inflammation of a bursa sac that cushions a joint
Injury to the neck or shoulder, which can cause pain to spread down the arm
Osteoarthritis, wear and tear of the joints in the arm and shoulder
When should I call my doctor or 911?
Contact your doctor if you have long-term arm pain or discomfort. Call 911 if your arm pain is severe or sudden or occurs with any of these symptoms:
Feeling as if something terrible is going to happen or having an unexplained sense of dread or uneasiness
Any type of chest discomfort, such as pain, pressure, or squeezing, even if it is mild
Pain or discomfort in your shoulders, arms, back, neck or jaw
Shortness of breath or feeling like you can’t take a full breath
Passing out or feeling dizzy or woozy
Looking “white as a sheet”. Your skin may also be sweaty, cold and clammy.
- Fatigue or weakness
It may seem extreme to call an ambulance for arm pain, but don’t hesitate to call 911 with any of the above symptoms. It is better to call 911 for minor arm problem than ignore a possible heart attack. This is because every second counts in a heart attack, and any delay in treatment increases your risk of having fatal or serious heart damage. As a precaution, all emergency personnel will treat you as if you are having a heart attack until all your tests are complete.
Don’t second-guess the cause of your arm pain—call 911. It might save your heart and your life.