How To Tell The Difference Between A Heart Attack And Heartburn
If youve ever finished a meal and began to experience chest pain, you might have found yourself wondering if it were simply heartburn or an impending heart attack. Hopefully, it wasnt the latter. However, the signs and symptoms of heartburn and heart attack can often be similar. Whether you currently suffer from frequent heartburn or believe you may be at risk for a heart attack, knowing how to tell the difference between a heart attack and heartburn could save your life.
Learn How to Tell the Difference Between a Heart Attack and Heartburn
Tips & Warnings
- Dont ignore the warning signs of a heart attack in the hope that it may only be heartburn. If in doubt, call 911 immediately.
- Be particularly diligent about recognizing the symptoms of a heart attack if you are at high risk or have had a heart attack before.
Look Beyond Chest Pain Symptoms
When you have a heart attack, its because one of the coronary arteries that provide blood to the heart is blocked. The blockage obstructs the flow of blood and oxygen to the heart.
When you think of a heart attack, you may picture a person clutching their chest and collapsing from sudden, severe pain. But the symptoms of a heart attack often are much more subtle. This is especially true for women, Dr. Abdallah says.
A study by researchers at the University of British Columbia showed women are slightly less likely than men to experience chest pain during a heart attack.
Instead, they often suffer from subtle symptoms such as:
- Pain in the arms, neck or jaw.
- Sweating or cold sweat.
- Feelings of fullness, indigestion or choking .
- Nausea or vomiting.
- Lightheadedness, dizziness, extreme weakness or anxiety.
People with diabetes who are having a heart attack often have atypical or minimal symptoms, Dr. Abdallah says. If you have diabetes, you should seek medical attention for even slight chest or stomach pain or discomfort.
Heartburn Or Heart Attack: Differentiating Treatments
Treatments for these conditions vary due to their severity.
Heart attacks are considered an emergency, and the victim should be taken to the hospital immediately. Doctors will run tests such as and ECG, stress test, blood tests, or X-ray to confirm that the patient is suffering a heart attack. Depending on how severe it is, there are a variety of treatment options.
Patients may be dosed with a thrombolytic to help break down clots, and potentially undergo surgery where the affected artery is inflated with a balloon. A mesh stent may be inserted into the vessel in order to keep it open and improve blood flow.
In contrast, heartburn does not require emergency medical attention, though if it is chronic, you should meet with your doctor to determine whether you have GERD so they can put you on an appropriate treatment plan. If your heartburn is infrequent, it may be treated using over the counter antacids, avoiding cigarettes, wearing looser clothing, chewing gum to help neutralize the acid, or drinking a mix of one tablespoon of baking soda in a glass of water.
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Whats The Difference Between Heartburn And A Heart Attack
It has been reported that 85% of hospital ER admissions for chest pain are not a heart attack. While it is difficult to completely differentiate symptoms of heartburn and a heart attack, how do you know when too much holiday cheer is just heartburn or something more serious, like a heart attack?
Heart attacks, in general, produce a continuous discomfort or pressure sensation in the center of your chest. The pain associated with heart attacks may be experienced as a burning, aching, squeezing, or heavy sensation that can spread to other areas of the body like the arm, shoulder, upper back or jaw. During a heart attack, there are symptoms present that are not generally felt during episodes of indigestion. Symptoms of a heart attack may include shortness of breath, sweating, light headedness, dizziness, and nausea.
Indigestion generally causes temporary chest discomfort or burning anywhere from the upper abdomen to the throat. Heartburn usually hits after eating spicy, fatty, or greasy foods, but as with too much caffeine, feeling stressed, or eating too much.
Symptoms may worsen when taking a deep breath or coughing, but the pain is often relieved by taking antacid medications. Symptoms are usually:
- Feeling pain, burning, and discomfort in your upper abdomen
- Feeling full too soon while eating
- Feeling bloated and gassy
The good news is by making a few small dietary changes you can that can reduce run-ins with heartburn.
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Is It Possible To Prevent A Heart Attack Or Heartburn
There is a good possibility that both heartburn or a heart attack can be reduced or prevented. A balanced diet along with exercise is key to preventing for both heartburn and or heart attack. In addition to treating the underlying cause of heartburn, there are life style changes and natural home remedies that may help prevent it.
- Eat small, more frequent meals.
- Do not eat about three hours before bedtime.
- Elevate the head of your bed by about 6 inches.
- Do not eat or drink foods that are acidic or trigger acid development in the stomach.
- Stop smoking and/or drinking alcohol.
- Try to take your heartburn medication at the same time each day.
The chances of reducing or stopping recurrent or initial heart attacks may be prevented by lifestyle changes, for example:
- If you are obese, lose weight.
- Keep your cholesterol levels within the normal ranges.
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What Are Heart Attack Signs
Typical heart attack symptoms include:
- Pressure, tightness, pain or a squeezing/aching sensation in your chest or arms that may spread to your neck, jaw or back
- Nausea or abdominal pain
- Lightheadedness or sudden dizziness
For both men and women, the most common symptom of a heart attack is chest discomfort.
Women usually experience some of the additional signs, such as jaw or back pain, shortness of breath, nausea or vomiting. Anyone experiencing these symptoms should take steps to get checked out right away.
Heartburn Or Heart Attack: Knowing The Signs
Differentiating simple heartburn from heart disease symptoms can be challenging. Sometimes, people may have a meal and then go out for a walk. In that situation, it can be difficult to tell the difference between reflux or heart disease, says Patterson.
Its hard because the symptoms might be similar, agrees Sauer. You may not be able to decipher them. It may even require an ECG or stress test to check if its your heart.
With reflux, patients may have a bitter taste in the mouth. With heart problems, there is no bitter taste in the mouth and no association with food, says Patterson. I would differentiate the symptoms in regard to meal vs. exercise, and acidic, funny taste in the mouth vs. none.
In addition to the time of occurrence and related activity, understanding your own potential risk factors for heart disease is also helpful. Age is an important risk factor for both men and women. A mans chance of a heart attack increases at around age 40. However, the increased risk occurs around menopause for women.
Other factors include gender and family history of premature coronary artery disease. These factors are not in our control, but there are many more controllable risk factors, reminds Patterson.
Major risk factors for heart disease that we can control include:
- Illegal drug use
But what about the pounding chest pain and collapse weve all seen in countless movies and TV shows? Isnt that how heart attacks are supposed to happen?
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How Do Doctors Diagnose A Heart Attack And Heartburn
Most people with heartburn are diagnosed by their symptoms that they describe to their primary care doctor. However, definitive diagnosis of heartburn may be made by endoscopy and pH probe data, which is frequently done by gastroenterologists. However, it is common practice for doctors to rule out heart attack or any other pending cardiac problem to make sure the individual is not suffering from a potentially life-threatening problem.
The two main tests to diagnose heart attack are an EKG and a test to determine the level of certain enzymes in the blood . Additional tests for a heart attack can be done by echocardiogram, chest X-rays, coronary catheterization , and exercisestress tests.
The treatment for heartburn is varies with the severity of the disease that causes heartburn. Some people can treat heartburn with diet modifications, for example, avoiding acid causing foods such as chocolate, caffeine, spicy foods, carbonated drinks and citrus.
People with mild heartburn may only need only antacids over-the-counter occasionally, for example, Tums or Rolaids to relieve heartburn symptoms.
Moderate to more severe heartburn disease may require histamine receptor antagonists , protein pump inhibitors that reduce stomach acid production, for example, esomeprazole or omeprazole , or even surgery .
Heart Attack Treatment
Is It Heartburn Or Heart Attack
How can you tell if your chest pain is caused by heartburn or a heart attack? Sometimes it’s difficult to distinguish the two, so if there is any confusion as to whether you are suffering from a bout of heartburn or are having a heart attack, you need to seek immediate medical attention.
Symptoms more typical of the chest pain caused by heartburn include:
- A burning sensation or pain that occurs just below the breastbone
- This pain rarely radiates to the shoulders, neck, or arms, though it does occur on occasion
- This pain usually comes after meals, or when lying down soon after eating
- This chest pain usually responds quickly to antacids
- The pain is rarely accompanied by a cold sweat
Symptoms more typical of a heart attack include:
- The feeling of fullness, tightness, pressure, or pain in the center of the chest
- There may be a squeezing sensation as if something was tightening around the chest
- Pain may spread to the shoulders, neck, jaw or arms
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Worst Case Scenario With Heart Attacks And Heartburn
If its a one-off, youre in the clear. More frequent and you could be in trouble: Regular heartburn can be a symptom of gastroesophageal reflux disease , which can lead to ulcers, hernias or diabetes, warns Dr Kevin Whelan, nutritional scientist at Kings College, London.
Every 11 minutes a British man meets his maker by way of cardiac arrest, with one in three dying before reaching hospital: Fifty per cent of deaths occur within three to four hours of the first symptoms, so if youre in doubt, ring for an ambulance. says Whelan.
When Do Heart Attacks And Heartburn Happen
15 to 30 minutes after eating. If its worse when youre lying down or bending over, you can be pretty sure its heartburn, says Peters.
Any time. While moments of extreme pressure or physical exertion can bring on a seizure, heart attacks can happen at any point, even during sleep, says Peters.
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What Does Heartburn Feel Like
Symptoms of heartburn can include:
- A feeling of burning, warmth, or pain in your chest that usually gets worse if you lie down or bend over
- A sour taste in your mouth
In many cases, heartburn is not serious and can be relieved by avoiding certain foods or taking over-the-counter medicines, like antacids. But if you are pregnant or have heartburn on a regular basis, you should talk to your doctor about the best way to treat it. In some cases, frequent heartburn can be a symptom of a more serious digestive disorder.
What To Do If Its A Heart Attack
Heart attacks can be a super scary experience. Heres how to handle the situation like a pro:
- DO NOT ignore the symptoms. Ask a neighbor, friend, or family member to take you to the hospital if you cant get an ambulance. Drive yourself only if theres no other option.
- Chew an aspirin. Aspirin prevents your blood from clotting, and chewing it can get it into your system faster than swallowing it whole. This could reduce a heart attacks damage to your heart.
- Take nitroglycerin. Take this medication as you wait for emergency medical attention. Keep in mind that it has to be prescribed by a doctor.
- Do CPR if the person is unconscious. Knowing CPR can REALLY come in clutch in emergency situations. It can keep a persons blood flowing as you wait for EMS.
- Use an automated external defibrillator . This electronic device can kick-start a persons heart. The device might be available in certain work environments or public spaces.
Panic attacks can cause heart attack-like feels. Anxiety attacks arent as severe but can also trigger physical symptoms.
If you have anxiety, you might experience:
- rapid or irregular heart rate
- lightheadedness or weakness
- pressure or pain in your chest
A 2013 study suggests anxiety can increase the risk of heartburn . Some research also suggests anxiety disorders can contribute to heart disease.
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What You Need To Know About Heartburn
- Heartburn is something of a misnomer. Its caused by stomach acid rising up into your esophagus and has nothing to do with your heart.
- If you belch and the symptoms go away, the discomfort you feel is likely related to your esophagus not your heart.
- Heartburn can cause chest pain that radiates to your neck, throat, or jaw.
If you even think youre having a heart attack, you need to take immediate action, just like Clark did.
Dont tough out heart attack symptoms for more than five minutes. Call 911 or other emergency medical services for help, the Mayo Clinic writes on its website.
Too often, guys have this male pride thing where theyre foolish about their health. Clarks episode was a false alarm, but what if it hadnt been? If he sat quietly and didnt say anything, it could have been curtains.
When somethings not right, dont quietly keep it your own secret. Besides, whens the last time you were at the doctor anyway??
Take care of yourself, guys. If youre not doing it, call upon the lady in your life to motivate you to do so. Women, push your guys to go to the doctor to take care of themselves. Never keep things a secret, because you want to be alive to wake up the next day!
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How To Avoid Reflux
There are some things you can do to keep the heartburn away.
Written by American Heart Association editorial staff and reviewed by science and medicine advisers. See our editorial policies and staff.
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Heartburn Or Heart Attack: Seeking Help
When it comes to chest pain, it is always best to be cautious. If your symptoms are severe or are worrying you for any reason, seek medical attention. It is better to be told by a doctor that you are not having a heart attack than to ignore symptoms and let your condition worsen. This especially applies to women, as they have an increased risk of heart disease.
While heart attacks and heartburn are two very different conditions, many people confuse them due to their similar symptoms. If you are experiencing discomfort in your chest and arent sure of the cause, the best course of action is always to seek medical attention. While heartburn is not serious and can subside without the use of medication, heart attacks can be fatal and cause lasting damage. It is important to seek treatment if you believe there is even the slightest chance that your chest pain is being caused by a heart attack.
Heartburn Vs Heart Attack Symptoms
Chest pain is one of the most common reasons to go to the emergency room. While many of these people are having angina or a heart attack, some folks may have severe heartburn.
Often, the pain from angina, a heart attack, or a severe heartburn episode are so hard to tell apart that doctors need sophisticated tests to figure out what’s going on.
To complicate things even more, angina/heart disease and heartburn share risk factors of being older or overweight.
Signs more typical of heartburn include:
- You have a sharp, burning feeling just below your breastbone or ribs.The chest pain can be accompanied by an acidic taste in your mouth, regurgitation of food, or a burning in your throat.
- Pain generally doesn’t spread to your shoulders, neck, or arms, but it can.
- Pain usually comes after meals, particularly after foods or drinks that trigger reflux in you.
- Pain also comes when you lie down or exercise on a full stomach.
- Symptoms usually get better quickly after taking an antacid.
- You rarely get a cold sweat or shortness of breath along with your other symptoms.
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