Magazine article USA TODAY

Heart May Not Be the Culprit

Magazine article USA TODAY

Heart May Not Be the Culprit

Article excerpt

A crushing, cramping sensation in the chest and upper arm usually is attributed to heart attack or angina. However, that type of feeling also can come from esophageal or gall bladder inflammation, indicating that these organs--as well as the heart--should be examined by a physician when such discomfort occurs.

Pain from internal organs such as the esophagus and gall bladder often excites the same spinal cord cells that receive heart input. "Our research has shown how the nervous system is organized to process pain coming from the heart," notes Robert Foreman, professor of physiology, University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center. "Such pain is typically displayed in the chest. Instead of saying, |My heart hurts,' a person suffering from a heart attack or angina usually says his or her chest, arm, or even the jaw or neck hurts. Oddly enough, though, this same sensation can result when internal organs such as the esophagus and gall bladder are swollen or damaged."

Pain radiating from the heart, esophagus, and gall bladder travels, in the form of electrical impulses, up a major "pain pathway" called the spinalthalamic tract, located inside the spinal cord. …

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