The Symptoms Of These Two Health Problems May Overlap And Sometimes So Do The Treatments
During your regular after-dinner walk around the neighborhood, you feel a painful sensation in the center of your chest. Could it be your heartburn flaring up again, or something more serious?
Heartburn is a common symptom of gastroesophageal reflux disease , often called acid reflux. Acid from the stomach bubbles up into the esophagus, causing a painful burning just behind the breastbone. Not surprisingly, it’s often mistaken for a heart attack. In fact, of the over eight million emergency room visits for chest pain each year, severe heartburn accounts for over half the cases in which actual heart problems are ruled out.
Chest pain caused by insufficient blood flow to the heart or a heart attack is often described as a feeling of tightness, constriction, or pressure, rather than a burning sensation . But it’s not always easy to tell the difference. “Chest discomfort brought on by exercise is more likely to be a heart-related problem,” says Dr. Michelle O’Donoghue, cardiovascular specialist at Harvard-affiliated Brigham and Women’s Hospital. But you can also have angina that’s not related to physical activity, she notes. If you have any symptoms you’re not sure about, see a doctor. And call 911 if you feel chest tightness, have trouble breathing, break into a sweat, turn pale, or become very weak.
GERD and heart disease are both common, and many people take medications to prevent or treat both conditions.
Symptoms Of A Heart Attack
Heart attacks often but not always happen with classic symptoms:
- chest pain that is often described as pressure, squeezing, heaviness, tightness, fullness, or ache
- chest pain that feels like a very heavy weight crushing against the chest
- pain may come and go, but lasts for more than a few minutes
Not all heart attacks give the same symptoms. Symptoms can be mild or severe, and some people experience no symptoms at all.
The chest pain or discomfort is usually central or central-left, but it might not be. The pain may spread to other areas. It can affect one or both arms, the neck, jaw, or upper or mid-back.
Heart attack often comes with other symptoms:
- breaking out in a cold sweat
- being short of breath
- feeling very tired or lacking in energy
- feeling dizzy or lightheaded
People who may be less likely to experience symptoms when having a heart attack include older people and those with diabetes. These people may still show other symptoms though, such as breathlessness.
Differences Between Symptoms Of Heartburn And Heart Attack
It can sometimes be difficult to know if symptoms are due to a heart attack or heartburn. Doctors often find making a diagnosis based on symptoms alone difficult and rely on tests.
Sometimes even doctors can find their symptoms difficult to understand. A doctor at Harvard, for example, has told his story of heart disease.
He had a burning symptom in his upper belly whenever he exercised, but treatments for heartburn did not help.
It was not until he became breathless and unable to carry on that he sought medical help. Tests revealed heart disease that was close to causing a heart attack.
The main difference between symptoms is that:
- Heartburn tends to be worse after eating and when lying down, but a heart attack can happen after a meal, too.
- Heartburn can be relieved by drugs that reduce acid levels in the stomach.
- Heartburn does not cause more general symptoms, such as breathlessness.
- Heart attack does not cause bloating or belching, but these can happen with heartburn.
following symptoms should call 911 at once:
- Chest pain or discomfort, such as pressure, squeezing, pain, or fullness that lasts more than a few minutes or that goes away and comes back again
- Pain or discomfort in other parts of the body, for example, one or both arms, back, jaw, neck, or stomach
- Shortness of breath, before or with chest discomfort
- Cold sweat
- Other signs: Feeling unusually tired
All these symptoms can affect both men and women, but:
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Could It Be Something Else Entirely
Heartburn and heart attacks arent the only conditions that can cause chest pain. Here are some other issues to look out for:
- Angina. This can happen if your heart doesnt get enough oxygen-rich blood. It can feel like a heart attack.
- Pleurisy. Inflamed lung or chest cavity tissue can result in chest pain and shortness of breath.
- Gallbladder pain. Your gallbladder releases digestive fluids your body uses to process fats. Gallbladder issues can result in abdominal, chest, arm, neck, or shoulder pain. You may also experience diarrhea, nausea, or vomiting.
- Esophageal muscle spasm. Sudden muscle movement in your esophagus can lead to a tight or painful feeling in your chest.
How Can I Tell The Difference Between Heartburn And A Heart Attack
It can often be difficult to tell the difference between these two issues based on symptoms alone. However, there are some indicators that may help you determine whether youre experiencing a heart attack or heartburn:
- Heartburn tends to occur after a meal and be more painful when lying down
- Antacid drugs can relieve heartburn symptoms, but wont alleviate chest pain associated with a heart attack
- More generalized symptoms such as breathlessness or pain extending into the neck, shoulder, and jaw typically dont occur with heartburn
- Pain extending into your throat is typically associated with heartburn
- Belching and bloating often occur from heartburn but are not associated with a heart attack
- Strenuous activity will often make heart attack symptoms worse
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Worried About Your Heartburn
Find a primary care provider to answer your questions.
If youre concerned that the burning in your chest is more than an antacid can handle, dont hesitate to see your doctor. If youve never had heartburn and youre older, seeing your primary care doctor is the right thing to do, says Sauer.
If you have taken antacids for what you believe is reflux and the reflux is not going away, Its really a no-brainer to make sure its not the heart first, advises Patterson.
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Are There Similarities Among The Signs And Symptoms Of Heart Attack And Heartburn
A person can have these symptoms with either heartburn or a heart attack. Since the symptoms are so similar, it often makes it difficult for some people to tell if they are having heartburn or a heart attack.
- Chest pain . The pain may linger or subside.
Although heartburn may produce some less severe symptoms, heartburn is rarely life threatening. In contrast, heart attacks are frequently life threatening. If there is any doubt in your mind as to whether you or someone you are with has symptoms indicating heartburn or heart attack, you should call 911 immediately to be transported to an emergency department for medical treatment.
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Fast Track To Digestive Health
Reversing many years of bad eating habits will not happen overnight, it will take time. However, taking a natural prebiotic supplement can help you speed up the process enabling you to enjoy digestive health a lot faster.
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Not only that, Kiwi Klenz is an excellent source of dietary fibre for cleansing the colon and keeping you regular.
One of its key benefits is alleviating acid reflux by ensuring your digestive system receives plenty digestive enzymes.
These enzymes help improve absorption of nutrients and balance your stomachs ph levels.
Kiwi Klenz is definitely one option to consider, when seeking a nutritional product to help cleanse your digestive system, reduce acid reflux chest pain, and improve your overall health.
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.
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
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Acid Reflux Chest Pain Symptoms
The condition can cause a number of symptoms with the most common being heartburn however, other symptoms can include sore throat, back pain and of course chest pain.
The chest pain is a direct cause of heartburn. When the gastric acid makes contact with the sensitive lining of the esophagus it causes inflammation resulting in pain.
You feel the chest pain because the esophagus is located under your breastbone. The chest pain can be mild and for some patients the pain can be quite severe. Its this severe chest pain thats often mistaken for a heart attack.
Most of us can experience heartburn from time to time, especially after a heavy meal or drinking coffee or alcohol.
But, if the symptoms become persistent, it could be a sign that you have a chronic condition called gastroesophageal reflux disease. This title is often abbreviated to GERD.
When To See A Doctor For Heartburn
People who experience acid reflux should make an appointment to see a doctor if:
- the condition persists for some time
- food sticks in the throat
- there is difficulty eating
- there is blood in the stools
- there is difficulty breathing or swallowing
Persistent exposure to the stomach acid can cause damage to the esophagus.
Emergency doctors will consider the symptoms, examine the patient, and carry out some tests.
Is It Heartburn Or A Heart Attack
If youve ever shown up at the emergency department convinced youre having a heart attack only to discover it was a particularly bad case of heartburn, youre not alone.
The journal Circulation of the American Heart Association reports that there are more than 8 million visits to the emergency department every year for chest pain, but fewer than 5 percent end up being a serious heart condition.
If it makes you feel better, determining whether its really a heart attack can also be tricky for the professionals.
Although heartburn and a heart attack are very different, they feel alike in many ways, said Cardiology Fellow William Stoutt, DO, with Samaritan Cardiology – Corvallis. It can be difficult to determine the true cause of chest pain with just a description of symptoms, and we may need to use several tests to pinpoint a diagnosis.
If you arrive at the hospital and report chest pain, the emergency department will usually check an electrocardiogram. An EKG looks at the electrical activity of the heart and may show signs of heart muscle injury, such as a heart attack. You may also need a blood test that measures an enzyme called troponin, which can be seen when there is heart damage.
But Back To The Abdominal Spasm Or A Hiccup
Dr. Chait says that this can also be associated with a sensation called water brash, which is the welling up of fluid in the mouth that one feels just before they vomit.
He adds, Both may be warning signs of GERD when it is associated with more severe problems such as esophagitis, gastritis, ulcer disease, etc.
The spasm feeling also may not be related to the esophagus and actually be related to diseases of the gallbladder, stomach or pancreas.
Either way, when someone gets these severe symptoms, they need further evaluation by their doctor.
Severe chest pain or abdominal pain should never be ignored, nor should one attempt to make a diagnosis medical imaging can reveal a lot about whats going on in the body, and that includes GERD.
Dr. Chaits practice interests include digestive conditions such as colon cancer, gastrointestinal endoscopy and internal medicine. He has authored numerous publications in reputed journals.
Lorra Garrick has been covering medical, fitness and cybersecurity topics for many years, having written thousands of articles for print magazines and websites, including as a ghostwriter. Shes also a former ACE-certified personal trainer.
Top image: Shutterstock/Lisa F. Young
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What Went Wrong In The Er That First Visit
Dr. Liu explains, GERD is usually the diagnosis only after excluding cardiac ischemia or aortic dissection.
In the ER, people with chest pain are given a blood test at least twice to measure an enzyme called troponin, which damaged cardiac tissue leaks into the bloodstream.
If the level is within a normal range, its determined that you did not have a heart attack.
However, this test cannot determine that youre about to have a heart attack only if you already had one or are in the process of having one.
For the first ER visit, significant coronary blockage was not ruled out. Only after she was admitted to the hospital after the second ER visit, was this diagnosed via catheter angiogram.
My mother wasnt even given a CT angiogram in that first visit, despite her elderly status and report of chest pains over the past several weeks.
The CT angiogram has been shown to be a highly effective tool at detecting patients at high risk for imminent heart attacks .
Thoracic aortic dissection , which causes wrenching chest pain, is quickly ruled out with an ultrasound.
Cardiovascular problems are fixable if caught early, but devastating if missed, says Dr Liu.
The ER department will usually order a 12-lead EKG which will show if there are any ischemic changes occurring at the time of the chest pain symptoms.
If the patient doesnt have pain when the EKG is performed, then the EKG might be normal.
She was given a GERD information sheet and a prescription to a GERD drug.
Is It A Heart Attack Or Just Heartburn
Brian M. Salata, M.D. contributes to topics such as Cardiology.
Deepak Singh, M.D. contributes to topics such as Cardiothoracic Surgery.
contributes to topics such as Cardiology.
Youve just polished off a large beef and cheese burrito and suddenly it hits: a burning sensation, right around your chest and your neck. Its heartburn, right? Or could this be something much more dangerous, like a heart attack?
Its easy to confuse the two because the symptoms can feel very similar, says Deepak Singh, M.D., a cardiothoracic surgeon at Jersey Shore University Medical Center. Depending on where the heart attack is happening, the type of pain can mimic heartburn and vice versa, he says.
That being said, if it is a heart attack, its critical that you address it ASAP. If a heart attack is treated promptly, the damage done to the heart muscle can be minimized or even totally avoided, says Brian Salata, M.D., internal medicine specialist at JFK University Medical Center. Time is critical if you are having a heart attack.
Keep in mind that the movie version of a heart attack and a real-life heart attack may look and feel very different. Add to that, heart attack symptoms can vary from person to person, including based on gender, and even from heart attack to heart attack.
So how do you know if its heartburn or a heart attack? Here are a few questions to ask yourself:
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Heartburn Vs Heart Attack Symptoms
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.
Is Heartburn A Symptom Of A Heart Attack
Heartburn is often a symptom of GERD, but it can also be a symptom of a heart attack. In fact, heart attacks can cause other symptoms that usually happen with GERD, such as nausea, burping, and vomiting. In this case, the symptoms usually do not occur by themselves and will come with other symptoms that point to a more serious cause.
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