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Amy is a Board Certified Family Health Nurse Practitioner (FNP) with over 15 years of experience working in Hospital Medicine, Urgent Care and Primary Care practices. Amy graduated Thomas Jefferson University with high distinction earning a Bachelor of Science in Nursing in 2008, a Master of Science in Nursing in 2010 and a Post Master's Certificate in Adult Gerontology Acute Care (AGAC) in 2014. She was recognized by the Elite American Nurses Association in 2013 for her dedication, achievements and leadership in the field Nursing. She served as a clinical preceptor for a number of Nurse Practitioner students and enjoys teaching the bright minds of future NPs.
It can be concerning to develop pain in your left arm since it is commonly associated as a symptom of a heart attack. But what about left arm pain that comes and goes?
Unfortunately, this type of pain can have many different causes, but a heart attack is still the most serious among them. Because of this, it is essential to seek immediate attention if you believe you are having a heart attack. Read on to understand what heart attack symptoms can include, different causes of left arm pain, and when to seek medical attention.
Table of Contents
- Does Heart Attack Arm Pain Come and Go?
- How Do You Know if Left Arm Pain Is Heart-Related?
- Symptoms of Throbbing Pain in Left Arm
- Causes of Dull Pain in Left Arm That Comes and Goes
- How to Treat Throbbing Pain in the Left Arm?
- What Medication to Take for Dull Pain in the Left Arm?
- How Do You Know if Left Arm Throbbing Pain Is Serious?
- When to See a Doctor?
- Key Takeaways
Does Heart Attack Arm Pain Come and Go?
Arm pain that is due to a heart attack can come and go, and in some cases, the pain is more severe when it reappears.
However, this is not the case for everyone who has a heart attack and develops arm pain. In some people, the pain comes on suddenly and then gets increasingly worse over the course of a few minutes. Women, specifically, are known to experience arm pain that comes and goes more often than men are.
How Do You Know if Left Arm Pain Is Heart-Related?
There are many reasons why you may experience pain in the left arm, so how do you determine if the pain has a heart-related cause?
The primary heart condition with left arm pain as a symptom is a heart attack, where left arm pain acts as a warning sign.
Additional symptoms of a heart attack include:
- shortness of breath
- pressure or pain in the upper body, which can include the back, jaw, stomach, neck, or arms
- pain, pressure, or squeezing in the center of the chest
- nausea or vomiting
- cold sweat
However, it’s important to know that while people commonly think that only left arm pain can signify a heart attack, pain in either or both arms can be a warning sign of an impending heart attack, so do not ignore the right arm.
It’s also important to note that men and women experience different heart attack symptoms. For example, women are more likely to have the symptoms of jaw and back pain, shortness of breath, nausea, and vomiting.
Despite the differences, one common signifier across both genders is a feeling of weight on the chest. If this is accompanied with arm pain, the cause of the pain is likely heart related.
If there are additional symptoms of a heart attack, or if you are experiencing discomfort or pain in your chest or shortness of breath, you should seek immediate emergency attention.
Symptoms of Throbbing Pain in Left Arm
Pain can vary from person to person. Some people may experience a dull pain that remains mild or builds to something more severe. Other times the pain may be described as stabbing.
Throbbing pain refers to pain that increases and decreases to a regular rhythm. In some cases, people may say that it throbs in time with their heartbeat.
Causes of Dull Pain in Left Arm That Comes and Goes
While a heart attack is the condition most commonly associated with left arm pain, there are other conditions that can cause this type of pain.
Rotator Cuff Injuries
Your rotator cuff includes the group of muscles and tendons that reside in the shoulder and allow you to move your arm in the shoulder joint. Despite the rotator cuff being located in the shoulder, an injury to it can cause pain that radiates down the arm.
Rotator cuff injuries are most common in athletes who frequently raise their arms above their heads or those who work a job that requires repetitive lifting. In many cases, the pain is limited to only when lifting or lowering the arm, but the pain may become continuous over time.
Different injuries can affect the rotator cuff, including:
- Bursitis: inflammation and swelling of the bursa, which is a fluid-filled sac located next to the rotator cuff
- Tendonitis: inflammation or damage of the rotator cuff tendons
- Torn rotator cuff: tearing of the muscles or tendons in the rotator cuff
- Impingement: rubbing of the shoulder bone against the rotator cuff.
Much as the name suggests, a pinched nerve occurs when a nerve becomes compressed or pinched, resulting in the misfiring of nerve signals and pain that radiates down the arm.
If you are experiencing a pinched nerve, additional symptoms that you may experience include:
- Pins-and-needles sensation
- Numbness or tingling
- Muscle weakness
- Sharp or burning pain that radiates to nearby areas
How to Treat Throbbing Pain in the Left Arm?
Using the RICE method (rest, ice, compression, elevate) is beneficial if an injury to the arm is the cause of the pain. Try to rest the arm and keep it elevated as much as possible. In addition, apply ice for 20 minutes at a time, several times a day.
Following these guidelines helps to reduce inflammation and let the injury heal.
If these actions are not improving your arm pain, be sure to check with a doctor. You should also talk to a doctor if the pain worsens or reaches the point where you have difficulty completing regular, everyday activities.
What Medication to Take for Dull Pain in the Left Arm?
The treatment for dull left arm pain varies widely based on the cause of the pain.
If doctors have concluded that the pain is due to a heart attack or impending heart attack, they may prescribe medication that can help dissolve blood clots and clear the blockage causing the heart attack.
If the pain is due to an injury, short-term pain management can include the use of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), including ibuprofen and naproxen. This medicine can be taken while also following the RICE method listed above.
How Do You Know if Left Arm Throbbing Pain Is Serious?
The most significant identifier of a serious condition is if any concerning symptoms accompany the left arm pain, such as chest pain, shortness of breath, or difficulty breathing. If these symptoms are present, the cause of the pain is likely a severe condition that requires immediate attention.
If the pain spreads from the shoulder down the arm, up to the chin, or across the upper back, it may signify a heart attack. In some cases, this pain is immediate, whereas, in others, it builds over the course of a few minutes. It may even come and go.
Left Arm Pain for 3 Days
If your left arm pain persists for days, it is best to seek a doctor’s opinion on what is causing the pain. If this is the only symptom you are experiencing, it may be due to an injury to the arm or surrounding area, and a doctor will be able to treat the injury and relieve your pain.
When to See a Doctor?
Those who have previously had a heart attack or have been diagnosed with heart disease should always have their left arm pain investigated.
If you have experienced trauma or an injury and now have dull arm pain, it may be due to an injury. Refraining from getting help could result in more trouble in the long run, so be sure to see a doctor about any possible injuries.
If you seek emergency attention, the doctor will first check to see if the left arm pain is due to a possible heart attack. This is always the first box that doctors like to check off. Once a heart attack has been ruled out, they will then turn their attention to other potential causes of left arm pain until the cause has been determined.
Get Help From an Online Doctor
Online doctors provide a way to seek guidance on what is causing your arm pain in as little as 15 minutes. The board-certified doctors that you meet with on the DrHouse platform can suggest next steps and treatments for your left arm pain.
It is important to remember that if you believe you are having a heart attack, you need to seek medical emergency attention as soon as possible. This is not a case when you want to schedule an appointment with an online doctor; you need to get an in-person same-day doctor visit immediately at a nearby clinic, where doctors can diagnose and treat your heart attack.
Left arm pain can have many causes, one of the most concerning being a heart attack. However, left arm pain is not present in all heart attack cases, and it can vary widely, being immediate in some individuals, while in others, it builds over the course of a few minutes or comes and goes. The best suggestion is to be aware of any additional heart attack symptoms that are present and seek immediate medical attention if that is the case.
Additional causes of left arm pain include rotator cuff injuries, pinched nerves, and broken or fractured bones. An online doctor provides a simple way to meet with a board-certified physician from the comfort of your home and discuss the potential causes of your arm pain.
- Causes of dull pain in left arm that comes and goes. (2022). https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/dull-pain-in-left-arm-that-comes-and-goes#causes
- Left Arm Pain Anxiety: Diagnosis and Treatment. (2022). https://www.healthline.com/health/left-arm-pain-anxiety#causesleft
- Why Is There Pain in My Left Arm?. (2022). https://www.healthline.com/health/pain-in-left-arm#causes-amp;-symptoms
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