The Warning Sign Your Back Pain Could Be A Heart Attack

Every 40 seconds, someone in the United States has a heart attack. It shouldn't be a surprise that heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States, taking the lives of almost 700,000 people in 2022, according to the National Center for Health Statistics (via the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention). 

Media portrayals of heart attacks usually show someone doubling over and grabbing their chest. Yet sometimes a heart attack comes with different symptoms. According to the American Heart Association, some people might feel pain in their arms, neck, jaw, or stomach. Other people experience shortness of breath that may or may not accompany chest pain. Women might rule out a possible heart attack because their nausea, lightheadedness, or cold sweat might feel like the flu. They might also believe they have acid reflux or general symptoms of aging. Another warning sign of a heart attack is pressure or pain in the upper back that feels like a rope tied around the chest and back.

Why you might feel back pain during a heart attack

It might not seem to make sense that a heart attack might cause back pain, but it helps to understand what causes a heart attack. According to Phoenix Heart, plaques can form along the walls of your arteries and eventually break off into clots. When a clot blocks the blood flowing through the artery, pressure builds up in the chest. That's why people often grab their chest after feeling this pressure. Because there are nerves that surround the upper chest, these nerves can send out pain signals elsewhere, according to Medical News Today. This referred pain can be felt in the upper back. 

This back pain will feel different from a pulled muscle in that the pain is dull and diffuse in the upper back. A pulled muscle will feel sharp and specific to a certain area. 

Women might also feel pain radiating to their shoulders or arms. However, silent heart attacks — those that have no symptoms — are more common in women than men.

Preventing heart attacks

Regular health screenings to check for high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes are key to understanding your risk for a heart attack, according to Mayo Clinic. Managing stress and getting seven hours of quality sleep each night also can help protect your heart. Although maintaining a healthy weight is important, how much fat you have around your belly is a good indicator of your heart disease risk. A waist circumference of more than 40 inches for men and 35 inches for women can point to a need to make lifestyle changes to manage your weight.

Eating a heart-healthy diet rich in fruits, vegetables, lean meats, and whole grains can improve your heart. You'll also want to limit salt, sugar, alcohol, saturated fat, and processed carbs. Your heart will also improve if you do at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise a week, such as walking. If you already do some vigorous exercise like jogging, you'll need just 75 minutes a week. Strength training twice a week will also help.It's not too late to quit smoking, even if you've smoked your entire life. If you quit smoking today, by next year you'll have a 50% reduction in your risk of heart disease.