One of the more traditional symptoms of a heart attack is a shooting pain in the left arm. As a result, one-sided arm pain can be a cause for alarm or distress if you can’t determine a cause. Although it is true that left arm pain can be a sign of a heart attack, which is far from the only possible source.
Numerous conditions and ailments, both benign and serious, can result in pain or soreness through only one arm. Knowing what symptoms and signs can or cannot implicate your heart, therefore, can go a great deal to preserving your health and overall peace of mind.
What Causes Pain in the Left Arm?
The reason that a heart attack can cause pain along your arm has to do with the circulation being reduced or cut off. Consequently, several conditions capable of affecting blood flow can also produce the same symptoms. Here are some causes of arm pain.
- Heart Attack: Let’s get this out of the way first. A heart attack (or “myocardial infarction”) happens when something is depriving the heart muscles of oxygen and heart tissue has begun to die. The cause can be a blood clot, arterial constriction, blood pressure, or other sources. Aside from left arm pain, the symptoms of a heart attack include chest pain (a squeezing, heavy type of pain) that can radiate to the back, jaw, or throat, plus sweating, dizziness, nausea, and vomiting. Not all of these symptoms will be displayed during every instance of a heart attack, and some heart attacks occur without any symptoms at all.
- Stress: A panic attack actually has many overlapping symptoms with a heart attack. When experiencing high levels of stress, you may possibly experience sweating, palpitations, a feeling of a heavy chest, and pain down the left arm. In addition to a panic attack, chronic stress is also capable of producing a repeated, throbbing pain in the arm.
- Angina: This is a form of chest pain brought on by low circulation and is associated with various coronary artery diseases. The pain in the chest can be felt as a pressure, burning, aching, squeezing, heavy, or sharp sensation and is capable of radiating into the left shoulder, arm, neck, back, and abdomen.
- Circulation Problems: Due to the direction of your body’s blood flow, the left arm is more affected by circulation issues than the right. Consequently, persistent, low circulation will sometimes appear as left arm pain or numbness and tingling in the digits. A dull, continual ache could also be seen, particularly when you haven’t been moving for a time.
- Medication: Some drugs have side effects which can affect circulation or cause some other sort of pain in the limbs. Such effects are usually documented on the medicine itself.
- Injury: Unsurprisingly, anything from a broken bone to a pulled muscle can result in pain along your left arm. While it is usually obvious if you have suffered an injury to the limb, some forms can be more subtle than others. For instance, it is possible to strain a muscle purely through sleep posture, resulting in pain without an apparent cause.
Symptoms that May Occur with Left Arm Pain
For safety reasons, it is best to leave determining whether or not you have had a heart attack to your doctor. However, there are some things you can do to narrow down the possibilities.
- Is it Reproducible?: Generally speaking, a heart attack cannot be manually induced or, if in progress, not worsened. If the pain is something you can trigger by movement or exertion, then the cause is not likely a heart attack. This is true even if the triggered pain is a sudden, shooting sensation.
- Touch the Arm: Feel along your arm for any spots that are particularly sore or tender. If you find one, it suggests that the source of your left arm pain has more to do with an injury than a heart situation.
- Is it Persistent?: A heart attack is, by definition, not a chronic condition. Numerous causes of left arm pain, such as circulation difficulties or an injury, can last for weeks, months, and in some cases years. The less sudden the arm pain is, the more probable that it is something else.
Natural Treatments for Left Arm Pain Relief
- Stop Smoking: Smoking puts you at greater risk for a heart attack, can aggravate angina, and delays the body’s healing process. Regardless of what is causing your left arm pain, putting smoking on hold or ending it altogether will help improve the situation.
- Rest: The effects of angina, circulation difficulties, and panic attacks or stress can be reduced by avoiding exertion, pacing oneself, making time for personal relaxation, and avoiding unnecessary sources of stress. In the case of an arm injury, resting the limb or keeping it immobilized will help speed recovery and prevent aggravation.
- RICE: An acronym for Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation, and an approach to follow when dealing with an injury. Keeping the arm immobilized while using ice, compression, and elevation to ease swelling can help reduce pain and avoid more serious consequences.
- Maintain a Good Diet: A diet that avoids caffeine and alcohol (which can constrict blood vessels) while rich in vitamin C (for improved blood vessel function) and balanced in other aspects can help reduce left arm pain. Moderation is also important, since large meals that leave you feeling heavy are known to provoke angina pain and are harder on circulation.
When to See a Doctor
Any form of persistent pain in the left arm, or pain that is not responding to home remedies, warrants a doctor’s inspection to see if there is an underlying cause that hasn’t been identified. In addition, any of the following could represent more serious situation and warrant urgent medical attention:
- The pain is accompanied by severe redness, swelling, or bleeding.
- You experience difficulty moving the arm.
- There was an audible cracking or snapping sound when the pain began.
- You are also experiencing any of the heart attack symptoms listed above.
Sources for Today’s Article:
“Pain in Left Arm,” MD Health web site. http://www.md-health.com/Pain-In-Left-Arm.html, last accessed February 16, 2016.
“Angina – Lifestyle and Home Remedies,” Mayo Clinic, February 3, 2015; http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/angina/basics/lifestyle-home-remedies/con-20031194, last accessed February 16, 2016.
“Pain in Left Arm,” New Health Guide web site; http://www.newhealthguide.org/Pain-In-Left-Arm.html, last accessed February 16, 2016.