Pain in the left arm can be a normal occurrence in older people, but it also can sometimes be a sign of an underlying medical condition. Among these problems lies the issue of a heart attack. So, how do you recognize left arm pain as a sign of a heart attack, which is a medical emergency and should be treated as such?
Left-arm pain as a sign of a heart attack
People who have a heart attack do so because a portion of the heart’s muscle is damaged, causing it to become weaker over time. Since coronary artery disease partially or completely prevents blood from reaching the heart, the heart muscle that’s connected to that coronary artery will eventually die. The lack of oxygen is what causes a heart attack.
The entire problem is based on the coronary arteries becoming narrow and stiff because of fatty deposits, so it is likely that these plaques will rupture from the artery wall, causing permanent blockages of the vessel.
This type of pain is an explanation to why some people having a heart attack experience pain the left arm without having pain the chest region, which is the most common sign of a heart attack.
If notice any pain the left arm that doesn’t go away after a few minutes, it is advisable that you call the emergency medical services in your area. You should also make the call if your pain is accompanied by any of the other well-known symptoms of a heart attack: dizziness, lightheadedness, cold sweat, extreme fatigue, pain in the chest, pain in the lower abdomen/jaw/shoulders/neck, or shortness of breath.
Left-arm pain as a sign of angina
Generally speaking, angina is characterized by pain in the chest area. However, there are cases where this pain extends to other parts of the body, such as the shoulders, neck, or even the left arm. Angina isn’t generally a sign of a heart attack, but it depends on whether it’s stable or unstable:
- Stable angina is predictable. It occurs when you’re exerting yourself, performing tasks that force the heart to demand extra oxygen. Imagine high-pressure water trying to make its way through a strangled hose. In general, stable angina pain goes away in a few minutes if you rest. Doctors will often prescribe medication to make this pain go away (such as nitroglycerin).
- Unstable angina is more threatening, as it can occur both when you’re resting, as well as when you’re exerting yourself. It generally lasts longer compared to a stable angina episode, and medication won’t make it go away. People that have stable angina are at a greater risk of a heart attack.
Other causes of left arm pain
Probably the easiest way to recognize if your left arm pain is caused by a heart attack is to answer the following questions:
- Does the pain last less than one minute?
- Does it feel like someone is stabbing you in the arm?
- Does movement or touching the arm cause you to feel pain?
- Is it just a portion of your arm that’s hurting?
If you these answers are positive, the pain you’re feeling might be due to an injury:
- Bursitis might be the cause of the pain, a condition in which the bursa (a sac filled with fluid that cushions the bone and the surrounding tissue) is inflamed. Shoulder bursitis may occur when the joint is being overused.
- Rotator cuff tear is a condition that causes a soft tissue located in the shoulders to hurt from trauma. A rotator cuff is a group of tendons and muscles located in the shoulder, which helps people move their arms.
- Tendonitis occurs when the tissue between the bone and the muscle is inflamed.
- Fractures are broken bones, which can also lead to left arm pain.
What to do in case of left arm pain
Some key points to remember:
- People that have been diagnosed with heart disease should consider left arm pain as a warning sign and visit the doctor as soon as possible.
- If you’ve suffered a fracture or have a bone problem that’s left untreated, it can cause left arm pain in the long run.
- The problems mentioned above, such as rotator cuff tears and bursitis have a number of complications in store for people that don’t tend to them.
The easiest way to recognize left arm pain as a sign of a heart attack is to carefully examine how this pain feels. If you’ve suffered an injury that might be causing the pain, you’re more likely to have a stabbing-like sensation, while in the case of a heart attack, it feels more like numbness.