What Are the Most Common Causes of Chest And Arm Pain?

The most obvious symptom of a heart attack is chest pain.
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  • Written By: Tricia Ellis-Christensen
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 11 July 2014
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The most common causes of chest and arm pain are potentially very serious, and these two symptoms together need prompt attention. In most cases, when they occur together, they signal an angina attack, a heart attack, or an injury. Sometimes, the two symptoms are coincidentally present and their causes may be easier to determine.

Heart attack or myocardial infarction is clearly one of the most feared possible diagnoses when chest and arm pain occur together. Most often, if there is arm pain, it is in the left arm and people often experience other symptoms like pain in the jaw, shoulder pain, shortness of breath, and weakness. The discomfort is said to radiate down the arm, and may come and go. The type of chest pain involved varies: it can be a squeezing or a burning pain that is similar to heartburn, but more intense.


Angina is a condition that also signifies heart disease, and it may result in pain of varying degrees that usually occurs episodically. Unlike with a heart attack, one or both arms may have pain, while the center of the chest feels squeezed or has a strong, pressured sensation. It is helpful to remember that the right arm is typically affected with angina, while generally only the left arm is affected with a heart attack. Both angina and heart attack can have other similar symptoms, like shortness of breath, chest pressure, pain in other areas of the body, and feelings of dizziness. Another helpful differential is that angina sensations tend to dissipate after an attack, but strong heart attacks can cause continuing effects or physical decline.

Sometimes people may notice chest and arm pain due to mild or moderate injuries. If either of the shoulders is injured, their connection to the muscles in the chest and the arm can occasionally cause painful sensations in both. In a mild injury, this pain is usually bearable and not as intense as that created by heart attack or angina, and it may worsen upon moving the shoulder. The cause of the pain is easier to diagnose if people have knowingly sustained an injury to both areas of the body or to the shoulder, but occasionally, people will suddenly notice pain in these areas, without being aware of how they’ve been injured. A simple muscle pull, which could occur in many different ways, could cause this scenario.

If the pain seems light and people can point to a direct cause, it may not be necessary to see a medical professional right away. Severe pain, especially without a specific cause, should always be taken seriously. While it’s possible such a situation is perfectly benign, it’s risky to ignore it.


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