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Referred Pain: Left Arm Pain During A Heart Attack

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Referred Pain: Left Arm Pain During A Heart Attack

A heart attack, along with the many cardiovascular diseases, is one of the leading causes of death. The chest pain associated with a heart attack is due to myocardial ischemia, also known as the interrupted blood supply to the part of the heart. This interruption of blood supply causes the tissues of the heart to die, thus an injury. This takes place more commonly on the coronary arteries that supplies the heart with oxygenated blood. Without oxygen supply to the heart, an attack occurs. 

The classical symptoms of a heart attack are sudden chest pain, shortness of breath, nausea, vomiting, palpitation, profuse sweating, and anxiety. Careful and prompt assessment is necessary to be able to halt the injury process and mediate interventions to heal the injury itself to prevent further injuries.

The signs and symptoms of a myocardial infarction, also known as a heart attack, can be different from one person to another. A characteristic symptom is the pain in the left arm that radiates from the nape, to arm, and going to the back. Left arm pain is considered a sign that a person is experiencing a heart attack and should go immediately to an emergency institution to have prompt and appropriate care needed. The signs and symptoms of a heart attack are very important to assess a myocardial infarction. Diagnosis can be done using an electrocardiogram or ECG, which measures the electric impulses of the heart and can detect heart injury or infarction. Blood tests are done to further establish the diagnosis. Diagnosis and treatment should be established as soon as possible from seconds to minutes because this could lead to further injuries, such as a cerebrovascular accident (CVA), also known as a stroke.

Left arm pain is considered as a referred pain. Referred pain is defined as a painful body part that is not the reason for the pain. This can be defined as a pain perceived in another area of the body, often far from the origin.


In other people, the referred pain from a heart attack could extend above the waist, or be just as little as extra fatigability or even intense jaw pain. Some people may not have this referred pain sign of left arm pain. Symptoms and severity of chest pain vary from one person to another. Atypical symptoms such as shortness of breath, fatigue, weakness, and restlessness are more common in women than in men. These atypical symptoms often occur also in older populations. In some cases, a heart attack may mimic the symptoms of a heart burn, because of this; there are cases wherein the treatment necessary is not addressed to the real problem. That is why symptoms should be always coupled with diagnostic examinations to rule out diagnosis.

Why Left Arm Pain?

During a heart attack, the pain radiates to the left side because of the confusion of the nervous system during a cardiac event. Anatomically, the heart is located on the center of the chest but is slightly tilted towards the left. That is same reason why we often feel palpitations and heart rates more on the left side of the chest. In fact, the heart beat can be best palpated or auscultated with the aid of a stethoscope on the area below the nipple on the left chest. This is two finger breadths below the nipple. This is where the apex of the heart is tilted a bit. The left arm pain is more commonly felt by women who suffer an attack than in men who usually only has sudden, severe chest pain.

The left arm pain noted during a heart attack arises when the nervous system or the neuron messenger system is confused while sending the message that is not well defined as the somatic nervous system. The nerves that supply the heart and the left arm are from the same spinal segment. The pain originates form the left chest then travels to the other parts such as the back, nape and left arm.

A left arm pain should be treated as a warning sign of a heart attack. The person should immediately seek medical advice to get the medical help she or he needs, even without the presence of chest pain. Early detection is important for preventive purposes. A person can be treated more effectively if the early signs of a heart attack are identified at an early time.

A person should also consider that not all left arm pain is caused by a heart attack. When a person feels a left arm pain, she or he should immediately seek advice to rule out the cause of the left arm pain. This is because there are several other causes for left arm pain. Sometimes, medication side effects, anxiety, stress, and panic attacks may cause left arm pain.


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