Numbness in your arms or hands can be caused by a variety of nerve or blood vessel conditions. However, some are more serious than others. Arm and hand numbness can be a sign of a heart attack -- a life-threatening condition. Seek immediate medical attention if you suspect you are having a heart attack.
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Arm and hand numbness is not a common symptom of a heart attack. However, it can occur, and is more common in women than men. Numbness may occur in one or both arms and hands as blood flow to these areas decreases. Because numbness in the arms and hands is a common symptom of many less-serious conditions, it may be overlooked as a symptom of a heart attack.
Arm and hand numbness may be accompanied by chest discomfort -- a classic symptom of a heart attack. This may be a crushing or burning sensation, or feel like pressure rather than a sharp pain. Less commonly, the pain may be more knife-like or stabbing. The classic place for this pressure, pain, or ache is just behind the breastbone, on the left side of the chest. Usually, chest pain or discomfort increases for the first few minutes and then begins to diminish in intensity.
Upper Body Pain
Some patients suffering a heart attack may notice that their chest pain actually seems to radiate outwards, down their arms -- the same area where numbness may be felt. This pain tends to persist for longer than the chest pain, and may be accompanied by pain in the jaw, back or neck. This is a common symptom of a heart attack and may be seen more frequently in men than in women.
Arm or hand numbness accompanied by sudden, heavy sweating may be a sign of a heart attack. You may also feel abnormally tired or experience nausea or vomiting. Shortness of breath is also common during a heart attack.
- American Journal of Critical Care: Symptoms Across the Continuum of Acute Coronary Syndromes -- Differences Between Women and Men
- American Journal of Critical Care: Racial Differences in Women’s Prodromal and Acute Myocardial Infarction Symptoms
- Heart: Patients’ Interpretation of Symptoms as a Cause of Delay in Reaching Hospital During Acute Myocardial Infarction