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What could cause jaw pain when I climb stairs or feel stress?

Anthony L. Komaroff, MD
Internal Medicine
Instead of worrying, you should see your doctor as soon as you can and tell him or her what is happening. Aches and pains in the jaw and neck are fairly common symptoms of angina—discomfort arising from poor blood flow to part of the heart muscle. Although angina is commonly felt as pain, pressure, or heaviness in the chest, it can appear in many guises.

The main nerve that carries pain signals from the heart, the vagus nerve, also communicates with the neck, jaw, and head, as well as the left arm. That means alarm signals from the heart can be felt elsewhere. Angina has been reported as pain in the left arm, numbness or tingling in the fingers of the left hand, pain in the neck, and aching in the jaw. In a study from Uruguay, 6% of people with ischemia (reduced blood flow to the heart muscle) had pain only in the head or jaw.

If the pain in your jaw is steady, lasts a long time, or is worst when you wake up in the morning, it could be that you are grinding your teeth. But if it comes and goes closely in sync with physical activity or stress, it could very well be caused by one or more narrowed coronary arteries. An exercise stress test can show you and your doctor if that is happening. If your jaw pain is, indeed, angina, the best place to start to correct the problem is with medicine, exercise, and other healthful lifestyle changes.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.