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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.  
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