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In addition to chest pain during a heart attack, the pain can also involve the left arm or jaw. Your jaw may hurt with a heart attack because the nerves that detect pain from your heart return to the same general area in your spinal cord as the nerves that sense pain in your jaw. The signals from the spinal cord then travel to the brain. As a result, your brain may interpret the nerve signal as pain from your jaw when it is actually coming from your heart. This is called “referred pain”.
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If I am having a heart attack my jaw may hurt because the nerves from the jaw run in close proximity to the nerves from the heart. When the heart cells begin to run out of oxygen and begin to send off signals of pain through the nervous system, the brain may confuse those nerve signals with signals coming from the jaw because of the nerve proximity. Therefore, there are times that we feel both chest pain and jaw pain when our hearts hurt, there are other times that the jaw pain may be the only manifestation of a heart attack.
Besides backing up blood in a blocked artery, your heart attack also causes a sensation of pain to travel from your heart to your spinal cord, where many merge onto the same nerve pathway. Your jaw may be perfectly fine, but your brain thinks that part of the heart's pain is the jaw calling out for help. This kind of pain is called referred pain.
Your heart attack also affects your lungs. Your heart is so busy trying to save its life that it cannot worry about pumping blood to the rest of the body. Some fluid remains in your lungs, leaving you almost breathless.
Your brain is at risk, too. If your heart stops beating entirely, your brain cells will die in 3 minutes to 7 minutes.
Pain in your jaw is one of many signs in your body's warning system that something is wrong. Learn how the heart and jaw are linked from Alvin Haynes, MD, of Regional Medical Center of San Jose in this video.
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