Short answer, yes! Anterior chest pain associated with cervical intervertebral disk disease, ossified posterior longitudinal ligament or other spinal disorders is sometimes referred to as “cervical angina” (CA) or “pseudoangina” and is an often overlooked source of non-cardiac chest pain. 1-5
Although its exact prevalence is unknown, 1.4% to 16% of patients undergoing cervical disk surgery may have symptoms of CA. 1 Conversely, 1 study reported 5% of patients with angina pectoris having cervical nerve root pathology.5 Many patients describe their chest pain as “pressure” or crushing in quality mimicking typical cardiac ischemia chest pain, often resulting in extensive cardiac workup. To add to the confusion, some patients even respond to nitroglycerin! One-half of patients also experience autonomic symptoms such as dyspnea, vertigo, nausea, diaphoresis, pallor, fatigue, and diploplia.1
Certain clues in the patient’s presentation should help us seriously consider the possibility of CA: 1-3
- History of cervical radiculopathy eg, subjective upper extremity weakness or sensory changes, occipital headache or neck pain
- Pain induced by cervical range of motion or movement of upper extremity
- History of cervical injury or recent manual labor (eg, lifting, pulling or pushing)
- Pain lasting greater than 30 min or less than 5 seconds and not relieved by rest
- Positive Spurling maneuver ie, reproduction of symptoms by rotating the cervical spine toward the symptomatic side while providing a downward compression through the patient’s head
CA is often attributed to cervical nerve root compression, likely mediated by compression of C4-C8 nerve roots which also supply the sensory and motor innervation of the anterior chest wall.
Bonus Pearl: Did you know that experimental stimulation of spinothalamic tract cells in the upper thoracic and lower cervical segments have been shown to reproduce angina pain? 6
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- Susman WI, Makovitch SA, Merchant SHI, et al. Cervical angina: an overlooked source of noncardiac chest pain. The Neurohospitalist 2015;5:22-27. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25553225
- Jacobs B. Cervical angina. NY State J Med 1990;90:8-11. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/2296405
- Sheps DS, Creed F, Clouse RE. Chest pain in patients with cardiac and noncardiac disease. Psychosomatic Medicine 66:861-67. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15564350
- Wells P. Cervical angina. Am Fam Physician 1997;55:2262-4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9149653
- Nakajima H, Uchida K, Kobayashi S, et al. Cervical angina: a seemingly still neglected symptom of cervical spine disorder. Spinal Cord 2006;44:509-513. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16331305
- Cheshire WP. Spinal cord infarction mimicking angina pectoris. Mayo Clin Proc 2000;75:1197-99. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11075751
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