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Is back pain a warning sign of cardiac arrest?

“Given that certain signs and symptoms precede a cardiac arrest (abrupt loss of heart function in a person who may or may not have been diagnosed with heart disease, according to the American Heart Association), it is important to be mindful of any warning signs the body may be giving you,” said Dr Ruchit Shah, Interventional Cardiologist, Masina Hospital, Mumbai, adding that timely action and seeking immediate medical help can save lives. But is chest pain, the most common sign associated with cardiac arrest, the only symptom to be worried about?

What is cardiac arrest?

A cardiac arrest usually follows a heart attack, or heart failure, said Dr Shah. “Heart attack means blockage in one of the major heart arteries which can lead to the sudden collapse of the heart or electrical disturbances in the heart which can lead to cardiac arrest. While chest pain is a common symptom of the same, one can experience pain anywhere in the body. It can be in the front, left, or right shoulder, left hand, right hand, the upper part of the tummy, jaw, neck, in the back in between the two shoulder blades, or anywhere between the chin to the umbilicus, either in the front or behind,” Dr Shah

“There are multiple cases of cardiac issues that arise suddenly in people of varying ages. However, in most cases, cardiac problems start with mild pain or discomfort. While chest pain is one of the most common symptoms of a heart attack, among the multiple other warning signs that a person should not ignore, is severe back pain,” said Dr Zakia Khan, Senior Consultant-Interventional Cardiology, Fortis Hospital, Kalyan.

However, only certain types of back pain are indicators of a cardiac arrest, said Dr Sudeep K N, DM Cardiology, Interventional Cardiologist, Apollo Hospitals, Bengaluru. “This includes upper back pain, also associated with shoulder pain, or a new onset back pain. Additionally, back pain accompanied with signs of sweating, fatigue, and breathlessness are uncommon signs of myocardial infarction which can lead to cardiac arrest, if left untreated,” Dr Sudeep mentioned.

According to Dr Khan, “severe upper back pain” that radiates to the chest or arm can be a valid symptom of an impending heart attack. “Surprisingly, the American Heart Association has noted that women are more likely than men to report back pain occurring before and during a heart attack,”

Acute back pain can be a manifestation of two cardiac conditions, said Dr Praveen Kulkarni, Senior Cardiologist at Global Hospitals Parel, Mumbai. “One is the most common form of heart attack with the center of the chest paining where some patients present with excruciating back pain,” he said.

Additionally, severe back pain can manifest in aortic dissection, a life-threatening condition caused by internal tearing of the aorta, a vessel that carries clean blood in to the body, he added. “In addition, severe hypertension can also cause aorta haematoma, so it is essential to take it seriously and head to a hospital at the earliest. If not diagnosed in time, it can lead to sudden death,” Dr Kulkarni warned.

What to do in case of signs?

If a person experiences any of the above signs, as the first step of care, one should approach a health facility and get a cardiac evaluation done in the form of ECG, ECHO, TMT etc. to rule out cardiac causes of back pain, Dr Khan said.


“Regular physical exams and other preventive healthcare measures, including periodic blood pressure checks and diagnostic testing can go a long way in helping prevent cardiac issues and bring to light any risk factors which can be easily preventable,” Dr Sudeep said.

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