Left arm pain: When to worry

Left arm pain doesn’t always mean you’re having a heart attack. Here’s what to watch for.

Left arm pain — and how the pain moves — can be one of the key differences between men’s and women’s heart attacks.

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Norton Heart & Vascular Institute specialists treat more cardiovascular patients — about 100,000 every year — than any other provider in Louisville and Southern Indiana.

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In men, the left arm pain will move from the shoulder down the left arm or up to the chin. If the pain comes on suddenly and is unusually severe, or is accompanied by pressure or squeezing in the chest, seek emergency treatment immediately.

In women, the pain can be subtler. It can radiate to the right or left arm. It can involve the chin, shoulder blades and upper back. The pain can reach into the abdomen and feel like nausea, indigestion and anxiety. Women are more likely than men to experience shortness of breath, nausea, vomiting and back or jaw pain.

Like in men, chest pain or discomfort is a common heart attack symptom in women. The pressure or squeezing can last for more than a few minutes or be intermittent in women. Seek emergency medical treatment immediately if you have heart attack symptoms.

Not all left arm pain, achiness or difficulty moving is a sign of a heart attack. Sometimes the cause is an injury, compressed nerves or other issues that don’t involve your heart.

Be mindful of the other symptoms, and if they last for more than a couple minutes, get emergency help.

The American Heart Association at Heart.org/HeartAttack, offers the following common heart attack warning signs:

  • Pain or discomfort in the chest
  • Lightheadedness, nausea or vomiting
  • Jaw, neck or back pain
  • Discomfort or pain in the arm or shoulder
  • Shortness of breath

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