Are You Really Having a Heart Attack or Is It Just Heartburn?
Heartburn or heart attack? Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is a common clinical problem affecting approximately one-third of the population in the United States according to the American Gastroenterological Association. It's also a common cause of non-cardiac chest pain. It's important to distinguish between heart attack vs heartburn since the management and treatment plans are different.
Heartburn is a common symptom of GERD which occurs when food and beverages from the stomach back up into the esophagus. Symptoms of heartburn include a burning sensation in the chest, behind the breast bone or in the throat. However, it's important to note that heartburn can also be caused by other conditions such as acid indigestion, gastritis and peptic ulcer disease.
According to the CDC, a heart attack happens when part of the heart muscle doesn’t get a sufficient amount of blood. The main cause of a heart attack is coronary artery disease (CAD). With heart attacks, individuals will often feel discomfort in the center or left side of the chest that persists for more than a few minutes. It may also go away and come back.
How to Tell the Difference Between the Two
There is no actual identifiable test available at home to tell the difference, but here are some examples that might help individuals to differentiate between the two, and lean toward acid reflux when having an episode of chest pain.
- Clearing the throat constantly (chronic dry cough) or having hoarseness
- If there’s no history of heart disease, diabetes, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, or family history of heart disease, then it’s unlikely one is having a heart attack.
- Difficulty swallowing or experiencing pain when swallowing food
- Pain happens after eating and is worse at night, especially when lying in bed
- Sensation of a lump in the throat
- New or worsening asthma
- Frequently taking medication for heartburn
- Chronic nausea and vomiting
Conditions That Heighten the Risk of GERD
There are conditions that can increase the risk of GERD, and they include the following:
- Hiatal hernia
- Delayed stomach emptying
- Connective tissue disorders
- Genetic disorders
Tips to Decrease Symptoms of Acid Reflex
The following tips will help to decrease the symptoms of acid reflux or stop the reflex together:
- Stop smoking
- Decrease alcohol and caffeine intake
- Eat small meals and have dinner earlier instead of waiting right before going to bed
- Avoid certain foods (triggers) such as fatty or fried foods
- Reduce or stop taking medications like Aspirin, Ibuprofen, Motrin, or Naproxen
- Elevate the head of the bed at night
- Add fruits and vegetables to the diet
- Weight loss
- Use supplements with high pH like Balance7
- Medication from over-the-counter to prescription
- If the symptoms persist over a few months, individuals will need to see their healthcare providers, so they can be referred to a gastroenterologist.