Jaw Pain & Heart Attack — What’s the Link?

  • Posted on: Jun 30 2022
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When you think about heart attacks, you might recall certain telltale symptoms associated with this medical emergency. A heart attack victim might clutch their chest in pain or feel discomfort in their left arm. These are some of the most common signs of a heart attack, but one symptom that often goes unrecognized is jaw pain. 

Continue reading to learn how jaw pain and heart attacks are intricately related.

What causes a heart attack?

Heart attacks are among the most common medical emergencies in the world, with more than 800,000 occurring each year in the United States alone. While heart attacks happen to hundreds of thousands of people, most don’t truly comprehend what goes in the body during one of these emergencies. 

To know why jaw pain occurs in some heart attack patients, it’s helpful to first know what happens in the body during a heart attack. 

The vast majority of heart attacks are the result of coronary artery disease. Coronary artery disease refers to the buildup of plaque within the arteries. This plaque comes from eating unhealthy foods, especially those that are high in fat and cholesterol (think fried chicken, red meat, and dairy products). 

If plaque buildup continues over a long period of time, it begins to narrow the width of the arteries, making it more difficult for blood to flow through. A heart attack happens when blood flow to the heart is completely cut off due to a total blockage or a blood clot.

Why Jaw Pain Occurs in Some Heart Attack Patients

So what does a heart attack have to do with jaw pain? Most patients who experience jaw pain in the days or hours leading to their heart attack never connect the two. After all, these are two completely different areas of the body. How could an issue with one cause pain in the other? 

As it turns out, the two are intricately linked due to a series of events that occur in the body during the heart attack itself.

During a heart attack, the lack of oxygenated blood flow causes the cells within the heart’s muscles and blood vessels to die. The death of these cells will cause either sharp pain, dull aching, or intense chest pressure. The feeling can vary from patient to patient, but it is always a significant form of discomfort.

When this discomfort occurs in the heart’s muscles and blood vessels, it creates what is called “radiating pain.” The nerves within the heart will begin to send out pain signals to surrounding nerves in the body. Since the heart is located slightly to the left of the center in the chest, many patients feel pain and discomfort in their left arm during a heart attack.

Another area this pain can radiate to is the jaw. A person who is having a heart attack might feel jaw pain due to the structure of the spinal cord. 

The nerves within the spine that detect pain signals from the heart return to the same general area in the spinal cord that detects pain from the jaw. This is why some heart attack patients report feeling an ache similar to that of a toothache in the days leading up to their heart attack.

Cardiac Care at Cardiovascular Wellness

If you have suffered a recent heart attack or have risk factors that increase your likelihood of experiencing a heart attack, schedule an appointment with the experts at Cardiovascular Wellness. 

With offices in Hicksville and Lake Success, NY, our providers work with patients throughout Nassau County to improve their cardiovascular health and reduce heart attack risk. Contact us today to schedule your appointment.

Posted in: Heart Attack

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