Numbness in Left Arm: Is it a Heart Attack?

When our arm hurts, usually, our first thought is an injury, a strain, or something in between.

What we underestimate is that pain in the arm might originate from somewhere else.

No, you do not always have to panic it is a heart attack [1].

But yes, numbness in left arm is one of the signs of a heart attack.

Pain felt in the left arm could also mean a joint injury or a pinched nerve.

That being said, once you know all of the possible causes of numbness in left arm, you will be better prepared to react in the moment.
numbness in left arm

Possible causes

As mentioned, there are many possible causes of numbness in left arm.

Some of them include minor and mild injuries and conditions, while others are more severe.

Sprains and Strains

Arguably the most common cause of numbness in the arm.

If you are left handed, you might experience it even more often.

If you are right handed, you will usually experience strains and sprains in your right arm.

A strain is an injury to the ligaments of a joint.

Ligaments play the role of stabilizing joints by holding the bones together.

Some of the common sprains are shoulder separation and elbow dislocation.

Strain, on the other hand, is stretching or tearing a muscle or tendon.

Some examples include rotator cuff tears and pulled biceps.

Tendons connect muscles to the bone, and when you tear it, you’ll feel pain.

Another common condition is tendinitis, which is actually inflammation of the tendon [2].

The result is again pain and numbness in the arm.

Tendinitis happens due to repetitive overuse.

For example, tennis players have the “tennis elbow”, while golfers have “golfer’s elbow”.

Heart attack

This is the reason many people panic when they feel pain and numbness in left arm [3].

It is one of the early signs of a heart attack, and a sign you should go to the ER immediately.

A blood clot or rupture in the coronary artery will stop the blood flow to part of your hart, and the muscle becomes damaged.

If you do not treat it, your heart starts to die, and the heart attack is inevitable.

Watch to other symptoms to know for sure that the numbness in left arm is a sign of a heart attack.

Here are other symptoms:

  • Chest pain and chest pressure
  • Pain in the back, neck, or shoulder
  • Shortness of breath
  • Breaking out in a cold sweat
  • Fatigue
  • Light headedness
  • Nausea or vomiting

Some people have more intense symptoms, while others have symptoms that come and go.

Angina

A symptom of coronary heart disease, angina means your heart muscles are not getting enough oxygen-rich food.

The accompanying symptoms are similar to those of a heart attack [4].

The difference is symptoms of angina last only for few minutes.

In most cases, angina gets worse when you are active, and better when you rest.

Fractured or broken bone

Pain is logical when you fracture or broke a bone.

There is no other outward sign and symptom of a fractured or broken bone in the arm or wrist despite pain.

The pain you feel will become worse when you move.

There are also symptoms like swelling and numbness in left arm.

Check with a physician, as you might feel normal, and your arm appears normal, but there is a fracture in there.

Bursitis

Bursa is the fluid-filled sack located between the bone and the moving parts of a joint.

When the bursa is inflamed, the condition is called bursitis.

Usually, bursitis is a result of a repetitive movement.

The risk increases with age, and the pain increases as you move or if you lie down on your arm.

In some cases, you are not able to fully rotate the shoulder.

Other symptoms are tingling and burning sensation in your arm and shoulder.

Herniated disk

The pads between the bones in the spinal column are called disks.

Their role is to be shock absorbers of your spine.

A herniated disc can cause pain and numbness in your arm or leg [5].

The herniated disc can occur anywhere on the spine [6].

Most common herniated discs are in the neck and in the lower back.

A herniated disc in the neck starts with pain in the neck, and then moves towards the shoulder and the arm.

A herniated disc in the lower back moves towards the leg.

Pinched nerve

In most cases, a pinched nerve is a result of a herniated disc due to trauma, wear and tear injury, or something else.

The symptoms are similar to those of a herniated disc.

When you move, you will feel increase in pain.

Vascular thoracic outlet syndrome

The condition sounds complex, but it is just something that happens in when blood vessels under the collarbone are compressed.

They can be compressed due to repetitive injury or trauma.

Left untreated, the condition leads to progressive nerve damage.

The syndrome can cause tingling, weakness, and numbness in left arm.

In some cases, you might also experience swelling of the arm, discoloration, cold hand or arm, and a weak pulse in your arm.

When to see the doctors?

We mentioned all of the accompanying symptoms of a heart attack for a reason.

If you notice any of the symptoms, as well as pain in the left arm, you should seek emergency care as soon as possible.

Do not delay.

The emergency personnel will monitor your heart through EKG, they will put an intravenous line to ensure you get fluids and medication if necessary.

What to do immediately?

Heart attacks can come differently.

Sometimes, they come suddenly.

Other times, they start slowly.

In both cases, the early symptom is chest discomfort, pain, and numbness and pain in the left arm.

If you are in doubt, call the emergency care.

In addition, there are a few other things you need to keep in mind:

  • Investigate pain in the left arm if you’ve been previously diagnosed with a heart disease
  • A bone that doesn’t heal properly will give you more trouble in the long run. If there is a possibility of a fractured arm, seek medical care
  • Try resting your arm and keep it elevated for strains and sprains. Apply ice several times a day
  • If you cannot rotate your shoulder, elbow, or wrist, seek health care. Rotator cuff tears, tendinitis, and bursitis can lead to complications if left untreated
  • Bear in mind that while only heart attack is a serious condition, others can become serious if left untreated

Numbness in your left arm

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Sources:

  1. http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/Conditions/911-Warnings-Signs-of-a-Heart-Attack_UCM_305346_SubHomePage.jsp
  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2505250/
  3. https://nvpainrelief.com/2016/09/04/know-the-difference-between-a-heart-attack-and-arm-pain/
  4. https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health-topics/angina
  5. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2907819/
  6. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3743527/

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