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Ask the doctor: Did I have a heart attack?

Q. The other night I woke up at about 2 a.m., and my heart was pumping hard and my lower jaw ached. It lasted about an hour, even though I took aspirin. Then I fell asleep. In the morning everything was fine. Was that a heart attack?

A. If you were my patient and you called my office and told me this, I would tell you to come right in and let me check you out. Probably it was not a heart attack, but the chance that it might have been is high enough that you need to be examined and tested. I hope that’s what you did. If you didn’t then, you should check with your doctor now.

I’m a little worried about a heart attack because of that aching in your jaw that lasted for one hour. Usually the pain of a heart attack is felt mainly in the chest. However, the pain often travels from the chest to the jaw, shoulder, and arm, and sometimes the pain is felt only in the jaw. Of course, other conditions can cause pain in the jaw, like a tooth abscess. But that wouldn’t come, last an hour, and then go away. So your doctor needs to test you for a heart attack or for another heart condition (an acute coronary syndrome) that can develop into a heart attack.

Your doctor needs to ask you for a lot more information than you could provide in the short question you’ve asked me. The doctor also needs to perform a physical examination and to obtain an ECG and possibly a blood test. After your doctor has all of that information, he or she may need to perform additional tests to see if you might have heart disease that could someday lead to a heart attack.

—Anthony L. Komaroff, M.D.
Editor in Chief
Harvard Health Letter

Posted by: Dr.Health

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