Harvard Heart Letter

Ask the doctor: Can a blocked artery cause jaw pain?

Q. Lately when I climb the stairs or get really stressed, my jaw starts hurting. Is that just an oddity or something I should worry about?

A. 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.

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