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Avatar universal

Pressure in chest and bilateral arm heaviness

Can someone please help me figure out what is going on with my body?  My symptoms are:
First of all, I suddenly feel a bilateral sensation in my arms of extreme heaviness (not numbness, not tingling) that starts at about mid forearm level and goes up my arms
At the same time, my chest feels like it is in a barrel and I am being squeezed completely around
These 2 symtoms last about 30-seconds to 1 minute and occur "out-of-the-blue", such as when shopping  or sitting on the couch.  It has happened at work and at home.
The last time this occured, for the first time,  I had a dull aching pain in the center of my back, between my shoulder blades, for about 5-8 minutes.  These "spells" concern me and this last one really scared me, thinking it might be a heart attack.  I chewed aspirin and tried to relax and eventually the aching pain went away.
I am a 58 year old woman with no history of heart disease except for familial history of my dad dying at 59 of heart disease.  I am only 5 pounds overweight and do not have high blood pressure or diabetes or any major illness.
Twice I have gone to the ER, thinking I'm having a heart attack.  The results are negative. I have been seen by 2 cardiologists and have had negative EKGs and stress Echos.  I do have a high CRP level  (about 5).  The cardiologists say I should check with my mental health professional since I have a history (controlled on meds) of depression.  Mentally, I feel good.
My psychiatrist says these are spontaneous panic attacks.  Then he says that I should make sure everything is okay with my heart.
One more part of my history that may be important - I have had herniated discs (C5-6-7) that have not bothered me for years.  I was in a carwreck and had MRIs.  I did physical therapy and was able to avoid surgery and relieve the pain. That was about 10 years ago.  I rarely have any neck pain now.
Does anyone have a similar experience or any ideas?  Thank you!
106 Responses
Avatar universal

Thanks for writing in.
It is possible that your symptoms are due to herniated discs. It is not necessary to have neck pain with herniated discs. I would suggest you to get a clinical evaluation done and may be an X ray of cervical spine to rule out any recent changes.
The possibility of panic attacks and over anxiety also cannot be ruled out. Since your cardio logical exam was normal, the possibility of heart disease is very less. However it will be better if you can keep your weight under control and make sure you are physically active.

Hope this helps!

Avatar universal
I could not believe it when I was reading your post.  I could have written your story as my own except for a few minor differences.  

I too am in my middle 50s, have a history of cervical spine problems, and have been brushed off by two doctors who said I am having an anxiety attack.
I have been experiencing sudden onset of extreme heaviness in both arms that is very painful; it is not a sharp pain, just hurts as if I had 100 pound weights hanging from my arms).  The pain lasts for only a minute or so and then subsides, but I am left with weakness for a few minutes or so and cannot hold anything in my hands during that time. My hands are usually shaky after these "episodes".  The pain is bilateral and both arms hurt at the same time, same intensity.  It almost always happens when I stand up from my desk and my arms go from a resting position at the keyboard to a standing position or when I am reaching for something. I also on occasion get weakness without the intense pain when I am blow drying or brushing my hair.  Sometimes I will get weakness in my arms when I am just out of bed and standing brushing my teeth.  

At first I was having the pain infrequently, every 2-3 months. I tend to have an episode or two one day, maybe another episode the next day, and then will not have any problems for the next 2 months.

I was concerned, but they passed quickly and did not return for months, so I thought I would just see if they progress into something more definitive.  After about a year of this happening off and on, I developed a new symptom; my hands curled up. I could not uncurl them and they were very painful.  This went away after a few minutes, but  I immediately went to my doctor and he said I was having an anxiety attack and hyperventilating and the hyperventilating was causing my hands to curl.  He put me on an antidepressant at that time.  I continued to have the arm episodes despite the antidepressant and he said "maybe I needed something stronger" and told me to breathe into a paper bag when I first felt symptoms come on.  Since I have a history of back problems, I have four neck fusions,  my spine is fused in the cervical areas C3-4, 4-5, 5-6 and 6-7, I felt that it was my spine, not anxiety, but I started breathing into a paper bag as he directed when my arms hurt.  I could not tell if it helped as the pain went away whether I used a paper bag or not.

I had my first prolonged episode two  weeks ago when the pain would go away but return every 10 minutes. My hands were curling too. I went to the Emergency room, told the doctor about my spine history, but since I was on antidepressants, he said I was having an anxiety/panic attack and called in a psych evaluation.  I was referred to a therapist, saw him twice, and he told me that what I was having was NOT panic or anxiety attacks and recommended I make an appointment with a neurologist.  I have an appointment next week and hopefully he will order an MRI.  I hope I do not have any more problems with my spine, but I also want to find out what is wrong with me and get it taken care of.  

I promise I will let you know the findings of my visit and hopefully it might shed some light on what is happening to you (which sounds so similar to my problem).
Take care.
Avatar universal
I have these same symptoms, but no back or spine trouble.  Please let me know if you get a diagnosis.
Michelle 57 years old
Avatar universal
It was like you were describing my 2 recent episodes it was like I had just worked out with a couple of hundred pound weights---both arms from my shoulder to my hands felt heavy.  Each arm hung by my side as I could not use or lift either one.  Nor could my hands held onto anything even if I wanted to.  Then this sensation seemed to travel thoughout my body.

Beckie ~~~ 61 years old.  I'm 5'5" and weigh 134 lbs.  I do have some minor issues with the neck area in the spine but in very good shape except for this.  I walk and workout several times a week.

Please post your results.....Thanks !
Avatar universal
Hello all.  I also have similar symptoms.  My arm discomfort is mostly left sided but I also have chest discomfort/pressure with it.  I also can go months in between episodes.  I have a had numerous EKG's, treadmill stress test, echo stress test, and a nuclear stress test.  All of the tests show that my heart is functioning fine, no evidence of CAD, but that I do have MVP.  My cardiologist and my PCP do not believe that the MVP is causing my problems though.  I also thoracic outlet syndrome on the left side, a hiatal hernia and GERD.  I am told anyone of those can cause my symptoms.  I am having extreme anxiety over this because all these symptoms are suggestive a heart condition but with all the tests I have had none of my doctors believe it is coming from my heart and they refuse to do anymore testing on my heart or anything else for that matter.  They have me on propranolol 20 mg bid and I was just recently prescribed Celexa 20 mg 1 a day and .5 Ativan PRN.  I don't want to start taking the anti-anxiety meds again, I took them for 2 years and was able to get off of them 4 years ago :-).  Oh, and I'm only 30 years old, I see the majority of you are over 50, so I guess I have to look forward to this for the rest of my life.  Hope everyone is well...

Avatar universal
I also have been having these episodes for about a year now off and on. I am a 42 year old female. I have no known health problems.  I first had this left arm pressure, squeezing and pressure across my chest. They last 1-2 minutes and then go away and I am fine. I will get one-  two in one day and then they go away and then out of the blue weeks or months later have another episode.  I have not been to a Doctor  (no health insurance).This site is the first one I have found with others describing the same episodes.  
Avatar universal
Okay, seems obvious that something is causal for all of us to have the same or similar symptoms.  What you have written is exactly what I have been feeling for the last couple of years.  I am a 52 year old female with no recorded back or spine problems.  I would certainly like to have someone identify what causes this.
When I told my husband about it, his worry was while I am driving a car.  First time I thought about that, but I certainly would not like for an episode to happen then.
Keep the posts coming, please.

Avatar universal
Are we all women having these episodes?  I think we are.  Perhaps a clue????
I have been experiencing these "episodes" for many years, although now they are more frequent and much more disturbing to me. They start with a heaviness in my arms and then my hands become shaky and unusable.  This is all followed by a tightness in my chest and then I experience a "wiped-out" feeling.
The doctor could fiind nothing wrong. I, too, have no back, spine or other problems. I take no medications and I am a healthy, active 52 year-old woman.
If anybody gets an answer please do us all a favor and post it.
1281221 tn?1271346072
Me too! It has happened a few times, most recently this morning- a sudden onset heaviness of arms like each is a hundred pound weight, feeling starts mid arms, bilaterally and spreads to chest. It is disabling when it happens- I grabbed onto the kitchen chair for support this morning. Just as soon as I ponder "what the heck is going on- should I call for help," the feeling goes away. I am perimenopausal at 47. I am very healthy, although overweight. The only spinal problem I have is no cervical curve. I have frequent muscle spasms in my neck (like waking up after sleeping funny, where you can't move your head a certain way...)  I was very worried when it happened, but I gaurantee it was no panic or anxiety. I am one of the most low key, relaxed, stress free people I know. I thrive in a climate of change. I am an RN who loves the everday challenges of management and family. The panic didnt start until I felt the heaviness. The only other time this happened to me was after taking migraine medication (triptans, like imitrex, rellpax, maxalt) and these drugs are contraindicated where heart disease is suspected. Since these drugs brought this on in the past, I assume the problem to be an early cardiac warning... like a very mild angina. Or possibly a TIA,
Avatar universal
My hands are becoming unusable during these "episodes."  Anybody else?
Avatar universal
How is everyone's blood pressure?  I have had these same sort of episodes and my doctor thinks it is related to my blood pressure/blood sugar.  My episodes do tend to happen after I have been sitting or laying down and first stand up.
Avatar universal
I have been experiencing the same symptoms recently. The first one was three days ago. It scared me enough to call the nurse who wanted to call an ambulance for me. Since I have family history of heart disease, I agreed. I went to the ER and was there for quite a while. They did blood test, and EKG, and a chest X-ray and found nothing wrong. The said my EKG was prefect. I was slightly anemic, but not enough to worry them. (I was having my period during this). My blood pressure was also fine throughout this. I am 46 years old, and in very good shape, not overweight.

I am writing because I had another episode today. It is scary. Today the heaviness started in my chest, and went out to my arms. I do not know what is causing it but I wonder also if it is connected to sudden changes in blood pressure or even indigestion? After today's episode, I burped a lot, and both times I had been sitting shortly before getting up and moving.

Anyway, I have scheduled a follow-up with my primary doctor for next week. I was diagnosed with some osteo-arthritis in my neck a few years ago, at that time causing some pain in my left arm. I started doing yoga and that went away, but I do wonder if it is related to my spine or neck also.

It is a relief to learn that others have this. Thanks all for writing. If I learn anything else I will write again.

Avatar universal
I have been having the same symptons for several months, I am a 47 year old female with high blood pressure. This is scarry when it happens and I thought it was heart related, my father had heart diease and died 11 1/2 years ago from a massive heart attack and the age of 58. I feel stupid telling anybody about it but don't want to ignore it if it's something dangerous. I really don't know what to do?
Avatar universal
So, has anyone got any answers yet? Some of you write of your plans to visit a doctor. How did it go and has anyone discovered the cause of these symptoms?
My friend has the tightening in his chest followed by heaviness in hands and extreme fatigue that follows. Usually though everything starts with feelings of being hot from inside (like flushes).
Avatar universal
I was so happy that I found people with a similar problem. I have the same symptoms usually occurring when I reach forward. They come and go, last for about a minute yet there maybe months between episodes. I most often get them when at the computer and they scare me. I have had a neck injury too. Mine start in the upper arm and spread to the chest and sometimes forearm, it feels really heavy but is not exactly painful. I lift my arms over my head to ease it and walk around until it's over. Does anyone have any Idea what it is yet?
Avatar universal
I am a 49 y.o. female with the same symptoms. It has happened about 4 times for me, once every month or two. A feeling of heaviness in both arms (although left feels a little more intense), and pressure in the chest, and a slight dizzy/fatigued feeling. I haven't pinpointed a specific thing that brings it on, although I don't think it could be anxiety/panic episode, etc., because it can occur when I'm in a perfectly fine mood, out of the blue. It happened tonight when I was talking to my husband happily about how cute our dog is. It passes after a few minutes. I just sit quietly and breathe slowly until it passes, hoping I'm not having a heart attack, wondering if I should call 911. I have had neck and upper back issues for years. I am overweight (working on it), and can on occasion have problems with high blood pressure. Glad to know I'm not alone, but wish we had some answers.
Avatar universal
I am a 64 year old healthy woman - work out every day and have for 40 years - do Bikram Yoga regularly.  I have the bi-lateral arm pain/heaviness/fatigue episodes (exactly as CeCe describes above) that last for between 30 seconds and 5 minutes.  My hands feel trembly but aren't totally useless.  I feel nothing in my chest.  I can't really function normally when the episodes occur - I just sit and let them pass.  They've been happening for over 3-4 years.  

I went to a neurologist who said I had carpal tunnel syndrome ... I wore the carpal "gloves" at night for several months - no change in the episodes.  Plus I have none of the carpal symptoms at all.  

Do any of you have migraines as well?  My internist thinks that the "episodes" may be related to migraines...
Avatar universal
Hi, I completely understand your concern and share the same symptoms.

Having spent three decades doing medical documentaries -- and two decades having an incurable pain condition -- I strongly suspect what you have is called "hyperneuropathy."  

I'd like to suggest you go to a pain clinic (even though what you're experiencing is more heaviness than pain). They have a number of ways to treat it and are almost certainly going to be best at diagnosing it.

If you need help finding the best pain clinic in your area, please let me know. I'll be happy to help you find one.

Avatar universal
I just had my first experience with this  today.  Mine  happened so fast and  only lasted a  few  minutes  but  was  enough to scare the  daylights out of me.  By the  time I thought I might need to go to the  Dr.,  it was  over.  It seemed to start above my elbows and go down toward my hands the  first time and then the  second one, not as  severe, seemed to radiate toward my chest and the  middle of my back, as it was  easing up.   I have Fibromyalgia (FMS) and Osteoarthiritis in neck and  lower back.  I also  suffer  from  Migraines  but did not  have one  today.  I am having some  allergy  problems and  all over muscle  pain from spending Saturday walking out in the  heat.
So some of our symptoms are similar,  50 year old over weight female, with  Fibromyalgia (FMS) and Osteoarthiritis in neck and  lower back, suffers  from migraines, allergies.   appreciate your postings on this  subject..
Avatar universal
I am a 58 year old female and found this forum by searching. I think so  much of what we are experiencing is the same, and some of mine is different. I searched for heaviness in arms. This is what has been going on with me. For about a a week I had sudden and very brief chest spasms. It was right at the front of mu chest and lasted about a second. When it occurred the last time, both arms tingled. I went to the ER and they found nothing, I have had all the heart tests and they all come back normal. I do have carpal tunnel and I also have some bad discs at C5, C6, C7, cause by a slip and fall. The heaviness I feel in my arms, doesn't go along with my the chest pain, at least it doesn't happen at the same time, though I suppose could be related. My arms aren't numb, they just feel heavy and hang like they belong to someone else. I haven't lost use or control of them. My shoulders and neck are sore and painful when I move, and sometimes I have a tight feeling on the side of my face and neck. I have also had pain in my tongue when moving my head and neck. The last ER doc told me he thought the chest pain was connected to my back and shoulders and told me to take Advil. It was nice to find this forum and to know that I am not the only one going through this stuff.
503250 tn?1210825782
If there is a doctor out there in cyberland visiting this site PLEASE help us! I am 49, recently I have been getting the heavy achy arm syndrome...bilaterally. I have been to my PCP c/o of  my symptoms which also includes the feeling of someone putting a fist in my chest. There is nothing I can narrow down to that seems like a pattern when this happens. I can wake up by it, have it while watching tv, driving, in shower and so on...it is for a brief amount of time. I have taken my BP when this happens and it is elevated. my PCP referred me to neurologist for nerve study. When I saw my cardiologist a few months ago...which led to hospital admit, he blew off my complaint of bilateral arm pain saying it is probably something to do with spine. I am at wits end...this is annoying more than anything, a bit scary, yes...I have a gut feeling it's related to heart but who am I?
Avatar universal
I began with the same/similar problems about 2 weeks ago now. I was sent to to the ER and underwent x-rays, blood tests, heart tests (as the ER Dr thought I was having a heartattack) but the results were negative. It stopped for a couple of days and then came back like gangbusters. It stopped for a day and has been fairly constant since.  My neurologist says I have peripheral neuropathy and put me on gabapentin. I have been on it for the past 3 yrs. I just had an MRI and I have had several CTscans etc. NOTHING!! This is so debilitating. The chest pain is horrific and feels like something is trying to tear my chest apart. Extreme heaviness is my arms but seems to affect the left arm a bit more than the right. I am exhausted after it is over and the heaviness in my arms lasts for some time. I cannot lay down the pain in my chest, makes me sit right back up.  I was very happy to find this website and desperately hope one will have the answer.  I do have other medical issues, high BP controlled with meds.  Please if someone knows what this is all about, give us the reason. It happens several times a day and often wakes me up in the morning. Non-stop now for the past week. I am scared to go anywhere or to drive my car as I am worried that it will happen when I am out somewhere, it is consuming my life!  I need some answers or suggestions on how to stop this.  Good luck everyone, in our search for a cure or antidote.
Avatar universal
I had one similar episode too!  Am 57, no history of heart problems.  I have a minor neck problem seen on CT.  Have had carpal tunnel surgery on one wrist and get minor carpal tunnel symptoms on the other wrist.  I experienced the aching/heaviness of the arms while I was sitting at dinner, and a heaviness across the chest - just lasted maybe 30-60 seconds.  But this was not at all like any arm pain I experienced with carpal tunnel.   Normally my blood pressure is low-normal.  My Dad died young of heart disease, age 72, first heart attack in his 50's, and his Dad died in his 60's of heart disease.  I am a bit "high strung" but never have needed treatment for anxiety/depression.  And this didn't seem related to any emotional issues.  Haven't been to my doctor about it.  But clearly I am not alone!  hmmm..... looking forward to other posts.  Jo
Avatar universal
I have had only 2 of these episodes so far, one a few days ago and one today.  Extreme sudden weakness and heaviness in both arms with an intense tingling and pain, especially in the shoulder joints.  A hot flushing feeling too.  I also have a tight feeling in the skin of my neck and cheeks. The only thing I can think that it would be caused from is the problems I have in my cervical vertebrae. One episode I was standing using my arms and today I was sitting at the computer. In both episodes my arms were out in  front of me.  I too am terrified that this could happen while driving.  I'm 43 with psoriatic arthritis and no none BP or heart issues.  It seems the thing we all have in common is the neck issue.  Maybe a sudden pinched nerve of the spine??  I will ask my rheum. at my next visit and if she thinks its the neck deal I will post here.
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