If you suddenly have tingling and numbness in your fingers and have risk factors for a heart attack, there may be more to what’s going on than just some pinched nerve somewhere.
“Yes, a heart attack can cause pain that feels like numbness and tingling in the arm,” begins Momina Mastoor, MD, a board certified cardiologist with WellSpan Medical Group in Gettysburg, PA.
“This sensation can travel all the way down the arm into the fingers, causing numbness and tingling,” continues Dr. Mastoor.
“Normally this symptom would occur along with other symptoms like chest pain, shortness of breath and lightheadedness.
“Tingling alone is rarely the sign of a heart attack. That said, if you are at risk for a heart attack, for example are obese, have high blood pressure or smoke, I would worry about numbness and tingling in the fingers.
“But if you do not have risk factors, tingling is likely not a sign of a heart attack. Besides a heart attack, this tingling can also occur with angina.”
What Is Angina?
Angina is sudden chest pain, pressure or tightness that’s caused by transient reduced blood flow through a coronary artery. It’s not a heart attack, but it’s a big risk factor.
Shortness of breath may accompany the chest discomfort. Tingling and numbness that radiate to the fingers may also occur, but this is a very uncommon symptom of angina.
An anginal attack is usually brought on with physical exertion or highly charged emotions, as these increase the body’s oxygen demands, making the heart work harder.
The diseased arteries cannot keep the supply of oxygen up with the demand.
Upon resting, the patient will feel relief. The episodes may last several minutes.
Very brief episodes of chest pain are not likely heart related, since an issue with reduced blood flow due to diseased arteries would certainly last longer than just seconds.
Chest pain along with sudden tingling or numbness in the fingers – a frightening symptom pair-up – is an ominous sign; you should see a cardiologist.
Tingling and numbness in the fingers without other cardiovascular or concerning symptoms like vomiting may be caused by carpal tunnel or pronator teres syndrome, diabetes, ganglion cyst, multiple sclerosis, pinched nerve in the neck, trauma (e.g., excessive use of a hammer), ulnar nerve (“funny bone”) entrapment or underactive thyroid.
Dr. Mastoor formally ran the Structural Heart Clinic at MedStar Union Memorial Hospital in Baltimore, MD.
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.