Heartburn or heart attack?

Updated:Oct 16,2013

Heartburn or heart attack?What does heartburn have to do with your heart? Nothing, actually!

Despite its name, heartburn — or acid indigestion — is related to your esophagus. But because the esophagus and heart are located near each other, either one can cause chest pain which is why many people mistake heart burn for angina and vice versa.

So what is heartburn?
Heartburn is a common condition that’s caused by stomach acids rising up into your esophagus. This can cause chest pain that sometimes radiates to your neck, throat or jaw.

“Our stomach is made for acid and can handle it, but our esophagus is not,” said Mary Ann Bauman, M.D., author, practicing physician and medical director of women’s health at INTEGRIS Health Systems.

Not sure if what you’re feeling is a heart attack or heartburn?

“I tell my patients that if you belch and the symptoms go away, it probably isn’t related to your heart but to your esophagus,” Bauman said. “But if you have shortness of breath or sweating, then it’s likely a heart-related issue.”

However, everyone is different, and not all symptoms are caused by one or the other, so:

When in doubt, check it out!
If you’re not sure if it’s heartburn or your heart, seek medical attention right away. It’s very easy to confuse the two issues so let a doctor rule out the most severe possibility. This is an especially important message for women

“Women are more likely to call help for someone else but not themselves,” Bauman said. In fact, 81 percent of women said they would call 9-1-1 for someone else showing signs of a heart attack but only 65 percent would call for themselves, according to a special report in Circulation.  

She added: “I always tell people if you’re concerned and not sure if it’s your heart, it’s better to err on the side of checking it out and having someone tell you it’s not a heart attack.” 

How to Avoid Reflux
There are some things you can do to keep the heartburn away.

  1. “Stay away from alcohol, cigarettes, aspirin/anti-inflammatories and citrus (which can relax the valve between the esophagus and the stomach and make it easier for acid to splash up),” Bauman advised.
  2. And if you experience heartburn at night, try giving gravity a hand. “Raise the head of your bed on blocks (about 6 inches) so gravity can help keep your stomach contents down in the stomach,” Bauman said.
  3. Another possible remedy can be not to eat close to bedtime or late at night. When your stomach is full of food or busy digesting food, try letting it finish that work before heading to bed.
  4. Some over-the-counter medications can also help.
  5. See your doctor to discuss your symptoms.
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