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Posted at: Aug 23, 2015, 12:28 PM; last updated: Aug 18, 2015, 11:43 PM (IST)

Heartburn vs heart attack

Heartburn vs heart attack
Often people experiencing a heart attack may confuse the symptoms for acid reflux or heartburn and can land themselves in acute trouble. Thinkstock

T. S. Kler

Chest discomfort, pain, shortness of breath — these are symptoms associated with angina or even heart attack. However, these symptoms also overlap with one of the most common conditions — heartburn or acid indigestion and reflux. This is why often people experiencing a heart attack may confuse their symptoms for a simple case of acid reflux, and can land themselves in acute trouble. Vice versa, a chest pain caused by acid indigestion can also be confused for a heart attack by some patients.

For the record, heartburn has nothing to do with the heart, despite its name. Heartburn is the term used for acid indigestion that affects the esophagus or food pipe. Since the latter is situated next to the heart, a discomfort in the food pipe gives you discomfort in the chest. This is also why the symptoms arising from a heart-related issue is often confused by people for an acidity concern. Some people may even mistake heartburn for a bout of angina (discomfort caused due to reduced supply of blood to the heart) or heart attack.

There is massive difference between heartburn and heart attack

Heartburn is a common condition that occurs when the acids from the stomach rise up and enter your food pipe, causing pain in the chest, and sometimes difficulty in breathing. This is a relatively minor condition that can be tackled by a quick dose of antacid or prevented by maintaining health eating habits.

On the other hand, a heart attack can be life-threatening. Heart attack occurs when the blood supply to or from the heart is interrupted due to the narrowing or blocking of an artery. This can mean that the crucial supply of oxygenated blood to interrupted and threatens a person’s life if timely treatment is not provided.

Never take a chance. A number of people who mistake a heart attack for a heartburn die untimely deaths because they fail to get appropriate medical attention on time. There are a few cases of people who live through minor heart attacks believing them to be ignorable instances of acid reflux. Signs of a previous heart attack are discovered only later after they suffer a major attack and seek medical help. Precious time is lost in such cases because the disease could have better be controlled and managed after a minor attack.

Patients should know that if the condition improves within a short span or time or after a few belches, one can be assured that the chest pain was due to acid reflux. However, if the chest discomfort continues, one must not waste time and immediately rush to a hospital.

If a person is having such symptoms in epigastric or lower chest and similar type of symptoms have been there since many months or years it usually points to stomach or eosophagus problem. But if these are recent, or there have been change in character of symptoms or such symptoms also occur on exertion like walking, climbing stairs and get better by taking rest, then most likely it is heart related and patient immediately needs to be rushed to a doctor and an ECG should be taken immediately.

Another important thing to remember is that if the so-called acidity or gas symptoms persist more than 20 minutes even after taking some antacid medicine, then most likely it is impending heart attack and patient should immediately rush to a nearby hospital for proper ECG. Common acidity or gas problem mostly is due to overeating and lack of exercise. Doing regular yoga is one of best way to avoid such problems

Even if the chest pain is not excruciating but you suspect it to be something serious, do not waste time in waiting for the symptoms to subside. Due to overlapping symptoms, it is common for people to confuse between the two. One should therefore immediately seek medical help. It is better to reach a doctor on time and being ruled out a serious condition than neglect it as a non-issue and regret later.

— The writer is HoD Cardiology, Director, Electrophysiology at Fortis Escorts Heart Institute & Research Centre, New Delhi

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