My patient with angina symptoms also complains of neck pain with left arm numbness. Could they be related?

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


  1. Susman WI, Makovitch SA, Merchant SHI, et al. Cervical angina: an overlooked source of noncardiac chest pain. The Neurohospitalist 2015;5:22-27.
  2. Jacobs B. Cervical angina. NY State J Med 1990;90:8-11.
  3. Sheps DS, Creed F, Clouse RE. Chest pain in patients with cardiac and noncardiac disease. Psychosomatic Medicine 66:861-67.
  4. Wells P. Cervical angina. Am Fam Physician 1997;55:2262-4.
  5. 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.
  6.  Cheshire WP. Spinal cord infarction mimicking angina pectoris. Mayo Clin Proc 2000;75:1197-99.

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My patient with angina symptoms also complains of neck pain with left arm numbness. Could they be related?

How can I distinguish cardiac asthma from typical bronchial asthma?

Certain clinical features of cardiac asthma, defined as congestive heart failure (CHF) associated with wheezing, may be useful in distinguishing it from bronchial asthma, particularly in older patients with COPD (1-3).
• Paroxysmal nocturnal dyspnea associated with wheezing
• Presence of rales or crackles, ascites or other signs of CHF
• Poor response to bronchodilators and corticosteroids
• Formal pulmonary function test with bronchoprovocation demonstrating minimal methacholine response.

Cardiac asthma is not uncommon. In a prospective study of patients 65 yrs of age or older (mean age 82 yrs) presenting with dyspnea due to CHF, cardiac asthma was diagnosed in 35% of subjects. Even in non-elderly patients, cardiac asthma has been reported in 10-15% of patients with CHF (2).

The mechanism(s) underlying cardiac asthma is likely multifactorial. Pulmonary edema and pulmonary vascular congestion have traditionally been considered as key factors either through edema in the interstitial fluid of bronchi squeezing the bronchiolar lumen or by externally compressing the entire airway structure and the bronchiole wall. Reflex bronchoconstriction involving the vagus nerve, bronchial hyperreactivity, systemic inflammation, and airway remodeling may also play a role (1,3). 

Treatment of choice for cardiac asthma typically includes diuretics, nitrates and morphine, not bronchodilators or corticosteroids (1,3). 

Bonus Pearl: Did you know that the term “cardiac asthma” was first coined by the Scottish physician, James Hope, way back in 1832 to distinguish it from bronchial asthma!


1. Litzinger MHJ, Aluen JKN, Cereceres R, et al. Cardiac asthma: not your typical asthma. US Pharm. 2013;38:HS-12-HS-18.
2. Jorge S, Becquemin MH, Delerme S, et al. Cardiac asthma in elderly patients: incidence, clinical presentation and outcome. BMC Cardiovascular Disorders 2007;7:16.
3. Tanabe T, Rozycki HJ, Kanoh S, et al. Cardiac asthma: new insights into an old disease. Expert Rev Respir Med 2012;6(6), 00-00.


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How can I distinguish cardiac asthma from typical bronchial asthma?

My patient is asking about the benefits of smoking cessation. How soon should she realize the health benefits of quitting her habit?

She should realize the health benefits of smoking cessation (SC) almost immediately! As the effect of nicotine wears off, just 15-20 minutes after her last cigarette, her heart rate and blood pressure should begin to fall.1,2Other health benefits, some within a year others longer, soon follow. 3,4 Between 2-12 weeks after SC, your patient may notice an improvement in her breathing and pulmonary function tests.

Between 1-9 months, the cilia in the lungs should begin to regenerate and regain normal function, allowing her to adequately clear mucus and bacteria with a decrease in cough and shortness of breath.

At 1 year, the risk of cardiovascular disease (eg, myocardial infarction, stroke) falls by one-half.

At 5 years, the risk of mouth, throat, esophagus, and bladder cancer also drops by one-half.

It takes 10 years for the risk of lung cancer to drop by one-half, and 15 years for it to approach that of non-smokers asymptotically. 4Fun fact: Did you know that in hypertensive patients who smoke, the blood pressure lowering effect of beta-blockers may be partly abolished by tobacco smoking,  whereas alpha-blockers may maintain their antihypertensive effects? 5References

  1. Omvik P. How smoking affects blood pressure. Blood Press. 1996;5:71–77.
  2. Mahmud A, Feely J. Effect of smoking on arterial stiffness and pulse pressure amplification. Hypertension. 2003;41(1):183-187.
  3. US Surgeon General’s Report, 1990, pp. 193, 194, 196, 285, 323
  4. US Surgeon General’s Report, 2010 and World Health Organization. Tobacco Control: Reversal of Risk After Quitting Smoking. IARC Handbooks of Cancer Prevention, Vol. 11. 2007, p. 341.
  5. Trap-Jensen. Effects of smoking on the heart and peripheral circulation. Am Heart J 1988;115:263-7.

Contributed by Felicia Hsu, Medical Student, Harvard Medical School

My patient is asking about the benefits of smoking cessation. How soon should she realize the health benefits of quitting her habit?