You’ve seen it in dozens of TV show cliffhangers: A person clutches their chest and gasps for breath, portraying the textbook symptoms of a heart attack....READ THE FULL ARTICLE FROM THE SOURCE

“The term heart attack refers to damage to the heart muscle from an interruption in blood flow,” says Harmony Reynolds, M.D., F.A.H.A., a cardiologist and director of the Sarah Ross Soter Center for Women’s Cardiovascular Research at NYU Langone Health in New York City.

The leading cause of heart attack in the U.S. is coronary artery disease, typified by plaque buildup that narrows arteries, though there are other causes.

But that classic clutch-gasp-drop is not always the way this serious cardiac event unfolds. While one person may have chest pain and shortness of breath, another may have less obvious symptoms, such as sudden pain or discomfort in an area far from their heart, like the neck, back, or jawline.

We asked top cardiologists to explain why jaw pain might signal a cardiac event, how to distinguish if jaw pain is cardiac-related, and more.

Can Heart Attacks Cause Jaw Pain?

While most people wouldn’t associate the two, heart attacks can bring on jaw pain. “The nerves that run to the heart have roots higher up in the body, so heart pain can be felt in the jaw or teeth, neck, shoulders, or arms, in addition to the chest,” says Dr. Reynolds. “The back and upper stomach can be affected, too.”

Of course, a heart attack isn’t the most common reason for jaw pain, so if you experience this particular discomfort, you shouldn’t panic that it’s due to a cardiac event, but it is wise to look for other warning signs and know when to see your doctor.

How to Tell If Your Jaw Pain Is From a Heart Attack

If something about your jaw (or anywhere else on your body) feels unusual, it’s always wise to seek professional evaluation.

When it comes to jaw pain and heart attacks, while there are specific signs that your pain could be indicative of myocardial infarction (the medical term for heart attack), it’s ultimately hard to be sure without a medical examination, notes Dr. Reynolds.

Location of your pain can be one clue. In jaw pain that’s caused by a heart attack, the discomfort won’t be central to the jawline—the pain will be lower and will end at the jaw, Dr. Reynolds notes. Blair Suter, M.D., a cardiologist at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center in Columbus, explains that people often describe the discomfort associated with heart attack as pressure on the left side of the chest that radiates up to the shoulder and jaw.

Another point of distinction: You can likely rule out a heart attack if there’s an obvious reason for the jaw pain, suggests Dr. Reynolds.

For instance, trauma to your jaw or even crunching away on certain foods or snacks might be enough to experience an achy sensation in your jaw afterward.

“If the jaw pain is new, unexplained, and lasts longer than 10 minutes, get it evaluated immediately at a hospital,” Dr. Reynolds says. “Also, if you have chest and jaw pain during exercise [but it] improves with rest, that, too, could be a concern for pain related to the heart.”

In addition, if any of the below symptoms accompany jaw pain, you could be experiencing a heart attack, suggests Dr. Reynolds.

Chest pain (it may not feel very painful and might simply be uncomfortable)

Confusion

Excessive sweating

Heart palpitations

Indigestion

Nausea

Pain going from the chest to the back, jaw, neck or left arm

Shortness of breath

Vomiting

Don’t wait—call for emergency care if you have one or more of these issues along with your aching jaw.

Jaw Pain as a Sign of Heart Attack: Females vs. Males

The symptoms of a heart attack can be wide-ranging, leading some people to brush off issues when they should seek help. To make matters more confusing, men and women may experience heart attack symptoms differently.

“Females are about twice as likely to have jaw pain with a heart attack than males,” says Dr. Reynolds. According to a study conducted on heart attack symptom presentation and published in the American Heart Journal, 9.2% of women reported jaw pain. In contrast, only 5.5% of men said they experienced the same during a heart attack.

That’s true for a host of other non-classic heart attack symptoms. Research in the American Heart Journal revealed that men who had a heart attack were significantly less likely to complain of pain in the neck, back, and jaw, or even experience nausea, compared to women.

Gender isn’t the only determinant of whether you’re likely to experience jaw pain with a heart attack. Ravi Thakker, M.D., cardiovascular disease fellow at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston, says those with diabetes and folks who have had chest wall surgery often report jaw pain during a heart attack as well.

Could Chest and Jaw Pain Be a Sign of a Stroke?

While associated with heart attack, it’s very rare to experience jaw and chest discomfort as a symptom of stroke (an interruption in the flow of blood and oxygen to the brain), Dr. Suter explains.

More common signs of stroke, according to Tripti Gupta, M.D., adult congenital heart disease fellow at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, include the following:

Confusion

Fainting or brief loss of consciousness

Feeling dizzy

Severe headache with no obvious cause

Sudden difficulty speaking

Sudden difficulty walking due to loss of balance or coordination

Sudden loss of vision

Sudden numbness or weakness in the face, arm, or leg

Other Potential Causes of Jaw Pain

Apart from heart attack, jaw pain can indicate a handful of other conditions. For instance, Dr. Reynolds says a tooth infection, also known as a tooth abscess, can be the source of jaw pain. Dr. Gupta also adds that sinus infections can prompt jaw tenderness. Discomfort in the jaw may also be related to one of the following issues:

Bruxism

Bruxismis the clinical term for teeth grinding and jaw clenching, which can occur when someone is awake or asleep. Most often, bruxism is mild and doesn’t require treatment. For some people, though, the teeth grinding is so severe that it causes damage to their teeth—from chips and cracks to worn-down enamel.

Teeth grinding can also cause soreness and tightness in the jaw muscles. Sleeping with a mouth guard can help protect your teeth and may reduce clenching. Small doses of Botox may also help alleviate jaw tightness associated with bruxism.

Temporomandibular Joint (TMJ) Disorders

TMJ describes problems with the sliding joints that connect your jaw to the rest of your face, notes Dr. Suter. Folks with TMJ disorders may notice a clicking sound or grating sensation when they open their mouth or chew food, per the Mayo Clinic.

They also might experience pain while chewing or have issues eating tougher foods. Apart from an aching jaw, people with TMJ may have general facial pain or discomfort around their ears.

In some cases, lifestyle tweaks can reduce symptoms of TMJ, per the Mayo Clinic. You’ll want to avoid stressing out your jaw muscles.

This means skipping gum and opting for soft foods over coarse ones. Adjunct therapies such as acupuncture may help increase blood flow to tight jaw muscles and alleviate muscle spasms. Massaging around the jaw can also help release tension, and stretching its muscles can help strengthen them.

Touch base with your dentist or a physical therapist to determine how to best manage your symptoms. Medications or even surgical procedures may be necessary in some cases.

Neuralgia

Neuralgia is a sharp, shocking pain in the face or body caused by nerve damage. This pain can also present in the jaw as a burning sensation, Dr. Suter says. A key sign of neuralgia is a stabbing pain that goes along the path of a nerve. The pain may come and go or may burn constantly.

Neuralgia has several possible causes, including most commonly diabetes, chronic kidney disease, Lyme disease, and trauma to the nerve.

Still, the root cause is often unexplained in many with neuralgia, though it seems more common in older adults. Over-the-counter pain medications, physical therapy, and acupuncture may all help ease discomfort in the jaw.

Temporal Arteritis

This vascular disorder causes inflammation in the blood vessels, per the Cleveland Clinic. Also known as giant cell arteritis, temporal arteritis causes narrowing or blockage of the blood vessels in the scalp, neck, and arms.

As a result of the lack of blood flow to these areas, you may feel pain in your jaw, have issues with coordination or balance, vision loss, and difficulty swallowing.

According to The Arthritis Foundation, women between the ages of 70 and 80 are most likely to get temporal arteritis, which many researchers think is an autoimmune disease. Fast-working anti-inflammatories known as corticosteroids often help keep pain at bay and prevent vision loss.

Causes of Heart Attack

A heart attack doesn’t just happen out of the blue. Often, you’ll have at least one underlying condition causing the heart’s (coronary) arteries to not work correctly.

Coronary Artery Disease (CAD)

This is the most common cause of heart attack. In fact, heart attack is often the first sign of CAD, according to the CDC. CAD describes plaque buildup in the arteries (known as atherosclerosis), which causes them to narrow and, eventually, interfere with blood flow to the heart and the rest of the body.

A heart attack usually happens when the plaque buildup breaks open, and a blood clot gets stuck in the ruptured plaque. If the blood clot happens to block the artery, it can deprive the heart of blood and bring on a heart attack.

Coronary Artery Spasm

This brief tightening of your coronary arteries temporarily decreases or blocks blood flow to your heart, and could elevate your risk of a cardiac event, according to the Cleveland Clinic.

You may not even realize you had one. Smoking tobacco, as well as having hypertension and high cholesterol can all cause a coronary artery spasm, according to the Cleveland Clinic.

Obstruction or Trauma to Coronary Artery

If you had a blood clot or embolism (air bubble) elsewhere in your body that eventually made its way to your coronary arteries, that could be a cause for heart attack. Additionally, if you’ve had tears, ruptures, or another related injury in your coronary arteries, that could also make you susceptible to a cardiac event.

Prolonged Eating Disorders

An eating disorder like anorexia or bulimia can place immense stress on your heart. Malnutrition and weight loss from anorexia can slow the metabolism, causing the heart muscle to beat more slowly or causing abnormal heart rhythms, American Heart Association (AHA).

Damage that occurs from the excessive vomiting of bulimia can eventually lead to congestive heart failure and death from a sudden cardiac event, like heart attack. It’s possible a heart attack could also occur for someone recovering from an eating disorder as a result of reintroducing nutrition too quickly.

When to Seek Emergency Care

You can almost always trust your body to tell you something is amiss. If you experience any of the above symptoms related to a heart attack—such as chest pain, heart palpitations, feeling weak, or pressure on the left side of the chest that radiates up to the shoulder and jaw—head to the emergency room immediately.

As the CDC states, the sooner you get to the ER, the better your chances of preventing any severe damage to the heart muscle.

Remember that occasional jaw pain is often not indicative of something more serious. More than 10 million people in the U.S. experience jaw pain and dysfunction, per the National Institutes of Health (NIH). If you’re among them, you’ll want to get it checked out by a doctor and explore treatment options…READ THE FULL CONTENTS>>


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