Left Arm Pain

Left arm pain can be a benign process cause by simple and treatable disorders, but could also be the symptom of more sinister illnesses that could potentially be life threatening.   Certain characters of the left arm pain whether it is dull, sharp, throbbing or shooting along with how the pain changes can help discern if you have a life threatening heart attack  vs a simple neurological or musculoskeletal disorder.  Also, is the pain in the shoulder or back and does it occur in one or both arms?  Let’s discuss the causes of left arm pain and what we should be thinking about in each case.

If you have a dull left arm pain and it occurs all the time whether at rest or exertion it could be a symptom of a heart attack.  It would come on suddenly and usually the dull ache may also come and go as well.   However, if the pain varies with position of the arm or shoulder then maybe a heart attack or angina isn’t the correct diagnosis.  Nerve impingement such as common at the level of the cervical nerve root or perhaps thoracic outlet syndrome which causes blockage of the brachial plexus where all the nerves of the cervical spine and upper thoracic comes together to then travel throughout the shoulder and arm.

A shooting pain like an electric shock could indicate significant nerve damage especially if associated with trauma.  There are other disorders which can make your nervous system super sensitive and hense cause either sharp or shooting pain.  More benign disorders like fibromyalgia can mimic this though fibromyalgia while benign in the aspect that it cannot kill you like a heart attack can is a potentially very debilitating disorder.

If your pain varies with exertion or in other words when you walk, run or do normal activity your pain worsens then when you rest it stops that could certainly be from angina and is technically called stable angina.  This is a precursor to a heart attack and cardiac imaging usually starting with a stress test should be done.  Of course if your cardiologist is highly suspicious of heart disease he may just go straight to a coronary angiogram to get a good look at your anatomy.

Left arm pain can be a heart attack whether the pain is in women or men regardless.  However, it is said that women have more atypical symptoms than men when it comes to coronary disease, angina and heart attacks.  So it is important that the entire clinical picture be taken into account.

Anxiety or panic attacks can mimic a heart attack and sometimes have the feeling of pain or sometimes numbness and tingling down the left, right or both arms.  It is often hard to tell the difference and your doctor will advise you to have a full workup and testing done to ensure that your heart is not the culprit.

The bottom line is if you have pain in the left arm especially when accompanied with other symptoms like nausea, vomiting, sweating, fast heart rate, chest pain, back and shoulder pains it is important to get checked out right away.  Having risk factors like a family history of heart disease, elevated cholesterol, diabetes, hypertension all put you at a much higher probability of that left arm pain actually being a real heart attack.