We all experience arm pain at some time or the other. With our arms working all day it is not uncommon for arm pain to occur and in most instances it is just due to strain. Naturally the arm that has been strained will pain more than the other side. However, there are cases where one-sided arm pain can be concerning, especially when it is left arm pain which is often associated with heart disease. Women in particular may be prone to heart disease without the typical chest pain and just a vague arm pain.
Women and Silent Heart Attacks
Cardiovascular disease is the number one killer in the United States. It causes anywhere between 500,000 to 750,000 deaths every year. Most of us think that killer cardiovascular diseases like a heart attack (myocardial infarction) is more of a male problem, and this is true. More men have heart attacks in the younger years than women. It is believed the higher estrogen levels in women prior to menopause may imbue some degree of protection.
However, this does not mean that women are not at risk. As women get older, and particularly in postmenopausal women, the risk of a heart attack increases significantly. Women are also more prone to what is sometimes termed a ‘silent heart attack’. It means that the symptoms are either vague or sometimes even absent to the point that a person does not even known that they are having or had a heart attack. The condition may be diagnosed by chance when future heart investigations are done.
Never Ignore Left Arm Pain
With cardiovascular diseases like a heart attack being such a major threat, most people know the main signs and symptoms. A crushing chest pain that often radiates to the left arm, excessive sweating, difficulty breathing, nausea and dizziness is how most of us think a heart attack will be present. Indeed most heart attack cases will present with these signs and symptoms. However, in silent heart attacks there may be no symptoms or even just one vague symptom.
It is possible to have arm pain and no other symptoms of a heart attack. Many people find this surprising but it is known to occur. Naturally most people will not consider a heart problem as the first possibility, and sometimes not at all, when they begin experience persistent or recurrent left arm pain on its own. While muscle or joint strain may be a more likely cause of arm pain, the possibility of a heart attack should not be ruled out entirely in high risk individuals.
Menopausal and post-menopausal women who have hypertension, high blood cholesterol, diabetes mellitus, are overweight or obese, are cigarette smokers and/or have a family history of cardiovascular diseases are considered to be high risk. While it may not be necessary to rush off for an ECG on every instance of left arm pain, women in the high risk group should be attentive for vague symptoms that may point to a silent heart attack. For this reason left arm pain should never be ignored.