Heart attack or GERD: How do you know?

Heartburn pain and chest pain from heart attack are extremely different but can feel very similar and often confusing. We’ll outline the differences so that you know when seeking medical help is crucial.

You’ve just eaten a large plate of food and start to feel a burning pain in your chest. You think it’s probably heartburn – right? Likely, but there’s also a chance the chest pain is a warning sign of an impending heart attack.

Learning to tell the difference between heartburn and a much more critical circumstance could really be a matter of life and death for you or your loved one. Continue on to find out some of the things you need to know if you are experiencing that burning pain in your chest.

Heartburn explained?

Heartburn is not a disease – it’s a symptom that can lead into a disease (Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease) if left untreated. Signs of heartburn include:

• It normally develops after eating or while lying down or bending over.

• It can be a brief episode or it can proceed for a few hours at a time.

• You notice a burning sensation in your chest area that may start in your upper abdomin and move up all the way into your the neck and throat.

• When you’re lying down, stomach acid moves up into the esophagus may leave a sour taste in your mouth.

Normally, stomach acid in your stomach is kept from going up in to your esophagus by the lower esophageal sphincter (LES). This ring of muscular tissue functions as a valve, which operates as a one-way valve as you ingest food.  The food travels down your esophagus and into the stomach.  At times the valve relaxes or weakens, allowing the strong stomach acids to reflux or move up into your esophagus. Your esophagus is not designed to handle the harsh stomach acids, hence the burning sensation is felt when the acid eats at the lining of your esophagus.

Pressure on the sphincter muscle (LES) from excess weight, eating way too much, lying down too soon after eating, some over the counter or prescription medications and other triggers can relax the LES and cause it to open a little. Other triggers that can relax the sphincter or increase the levels of stomach acid include highly acidic foods, alcohol and caffeine.

Frequent heartburn (more than 2 times per week) might mean you have an even more serious problem called acid reflux or gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)— the chronic reflux of harsh acid from your stomach in to your esophagus. Prolonged GERD can bring about Barrett’s esophagus, which is a risk factor for esophageal cancer. Barrett’s esophagus is a condition in which the color and the composition of the cells lining the lower esophagus change because of repeated exposure to the refluxed acid.

Heartburn could also be created by an inflamed lining of the stomach known as gastritis, a peptic ulcer or a hiatal hernia (when part of the stomach pushes up through the diaphram and into the chest).

Can chest pain be caused by other digestive symptoms?

Heartburn isn’t really the only digestive indicator that may include chest pain. A muscle spasm in your esophagus could have the same effect. The pain of a gallbladder attack additionally can spread into your breast. You might notice nausea as well as an extreme, constant pain in the upper middle or upper right abdominal areas— particularly after a fatty meal. The discomfort may move to your shoulders, neck and throat or arms.

Then how do I know if it’s my heart?

It’s not easy and sometimes even impossible to know exactly what’s causing your chest pain. Heart attack signs vary extensively, making it hard to recognize whether a heart attack or something else is inducing your pain. People that have had a heart attack in the past may not realize they’re having a second heart attack since their symptoms could be totally different.

Watch for these heart-related warning signs:

  • Quick pressure, tightening, intense or squeezing discomfort in the center of the chest that lasts more than a couple of minutes
  • Mild chest or upper body pain or discomfort— many heart attack indicators start gradually
  • Discomfort or pain spreading to the back, the neck and throat, jaw, belly, shoulders or arms— especially the left arm
  • Lack of breath with or without chest pain
  • Chest pain accompanied by sweating, nausea, dizziness or lightheadedness
  • Tension or rigidity in the chest throughout physical activity or when you’re under emotional tension

The most common indicator of heart attack for both men and women is chest pain or discomfort. Women are even more likely compared to men to experience some of the additional indicators, such as jaw or back discomfort, shortness of breath, as well as queasiness or vomiting.

When should you acquire medical aid?

Occasional bouts of heartburn are common. If you have persistent heartburn or take antacids daily, consult your doctor. Your heartburn might be a sign of GERD or an additional ailment.

If the heartburn appears even worse or different than normal— specifically if it develops during exercise or is accompanied with a lack of breath, sweating, nausea, pain or lightheadedness radiating in to your shoulder and arm—GET MEDICAL ATTENTION IMMEDIATELY. These symptoms might indicate a heart attack. In addition, look for health care attention right away if you experience any new chest pain as well as if you have had a heart attack previously or have any heart problem or diabetes, smoke, are over weight, or have high cholesterol. Do not wait more than a few minutes to call 911 for emergency medical help. Correct prognosis and timely treatment may save your life.

Undoubtedly, our best advice is if you have any doubts get medical attention immediately.  If you doctor determines it is heartburn or GERD you may be able to resolve that with simple lifestyle changes.  The number one recommended lifestyle change for treating GERD is elevating the head of your bed.Gravity1st™ Elevated Sleep Systems mattress is an excellent solution – it’s easy to set-up, easy to take down and is highly portable.

1.Johns Hopkins Advice on Treating GERD 2011