Here is what a medical doctor says about anxiety causing both chest and left arm pain.
Dr. David D. Clarke, MD, is president of the Psychophysiologic Disorders Association (stressillness.com), which aims to educate people that so many physical symptoms are rooted in mental stress and anxiety.
Dr. Clarke is also Clinical Assistant Professor of Gastroenterology Emeritus, Oregon Health & Science University.
You’re probably already well-aware that chest pain can be caused by stress or anxiety in someone with a healthy heart (the chest discomfort is non-cardiac, e.g., acid reflux).
But is it possible for anxiety to cause pain in the chest and left arm — at the same time – in someone with a healthy heart?
Dr. Clarke explains, “Acute or chronic anxiety can be associated with a variety of physical symptoms including discomfort in the chest.
“I have never encountered a patient who had anxiety-related pain in both the chest and the left arm simultaneously.
“This combination is more often associated with poor circulation to the heart muscle, i.e., angina or heart attack.”
I know this is not what you wanted to read if you’ve been experiencing simultaneous chest pain and left arm pain.
Now bear in mind that anxiety or stress can trigger angina.
However, angina is a cardiac situation—the result of inadequate blood flow in the heart.
So even though a moment of acute anxiety could set this off, this doesn’t mean the situation is “all in your head.”
An episode of angina could also include shortness of breath and left arm pain, even jaw and back pain.
In fact, angina, though stereotyped by images of people clutching their chest, can also include dizziness, sweating and nausea.
And yes, angina can be triggered by anxiety or angst, and can present as just the two symptoms of chest and left arm pain.
But if your heart is healthy…why would stress cause a pain in your left arm?
Think about that for a moment. It’s not surprising that of Dr. Clarke’s 7,000 stress-illness patients, he’s never encountered one with a simultaneous presentation of chest and left arm pain in the presence of a healthy heart.
Angina means there’s a problem with the coronary arteries, and there are treatments for this. Do NOT ignore these symptoms!
Tests by a cardiologist would begin with an EKG and cardiac stress test.
However, if you go to an emergency room with complaints of pain in the chest and left arm, you will immediately have an EKG done, blood tests to see if you had or are having a heart attack or have a blood clot in a lung, and a chest X-ray.
Anxiety, of course, is often the cause of a single symptom: chest pain.
Dr. Clarke explains, “The mechanism that produces physical symptoms in anxiety is not completely understood.
“But possible explanations include altered processing by the central nervous system (brain and spinal cord) of sensory signals from the chest and contraction of muscles in the chest caused by signals traveling from brain to muscle via the sympathetic nervous system.”
Since 1983 Dr. Clarke has successfully cared for over 7,000 patients with stress illness.
Lorra Garrick has been covering medical, fitness and cybersecurity topics for many years, having written thousands of articles for print magazines and websites, including as a ghostwriter. She’s also a former ACE-certified personal trainer.