Just as you’re done with a meal, an ominous pain strikes your chest and fills you with alarm. You panic because you think you’re having a heart attack and immediately get someone to call a doctor. Nine out of ten times, it could be a false alarm, like a heartburn. But then again, that one in ten, you’re dead.
So how do you tell the difference between a heartburn and a heart attack?
What Happens When You Have Heartburn
Heartburn actually has no effect on your heart, even though the name may lead you to believe otherwise. Heartburn is basically acid indigestion. It happens when the acids in your stomach flow backward into your food pipe or the esophagus. This causes a disturbing, sometimes almost painful burning sensation in your chest. This pain can even travel further upwards into your neck and throat regions.
Since the esophagus is located right next to the heart, it’s often difficult for people to distinguish where the pain is coming from. Therefore, they panic thinking it’s a heart attack. For this reason, it’s extremely important that your doctor rules out the possibility of a heart attack if over-the-counter antacids don’t cure your heartburn or at least, reduce the symptoms.
If you leave a heartburn untreated, it can cause much more serious problems like narrowing and inflammation of the food pipe, chronic coughing, respiratory problems, and sometimes even cancer.
How To Recognize The Signs Of Heartburn
Symptoms of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) like heartburn, often arise after a bout of overeating, eating foods that trigger indigestion or eating just before bedtime. This is accompanied by:
- A sharp piercing pain in the abdomen, chest, and the throat
- Burning sensations in the chest
- A sour flavor in the mouth
- The sense of food or liquid “repeating” itself
- Symptoms usually begin to get worse when you lie down
- Fullness or bloating
- Discomfort may be often, but not always relieved by antacids
Mild cases of heartburn do not require immediate medical attention. Chronic cases, however, call for scheduling a doctor’s meeting to find out if you have GERD. If you do, your doctor will proceed to prescribe the right treatment plan for you. Infrequent heartburn may be treated with the help of antacids, chewing gum, wearing loose-fitting clothes, and avoiding smoking. You could even try drinking a glass of water mixed with one tablespoon of baking soda – this is very effective in neutralizing the acid.
What Happens During A Heart Attack
The muscles of the heart need a constant flow of oxygen-rich blood for nourishment. The coronary arteries are crucial because they’re responsible for providing the heart with this critical blood supply.
If you have a coronary artery disease, it means that your arteries will become narrow and blood will no longer be able to flow as well as it should. As a result, you will have fatty matter, proteins, calcium, and inflammatory cells building up along the walls of the arteries to form plaque deposits of various sizes that are hard on the outside but soft and mushy on the inside.
When the plaque deposit is hard, the outer shell eventually cracks (also known as plaque rupture in medical terms). This causes platelets (tiny disc-shaped particles in the blood that trigger the clotting of blood) to enter into this area, causing blood clots to form around the plaque. If one of these blood clots ends up blocking the artery completely, the heart muscle gets starved for oxygen. Within a short span of time, the heart muscle will eventually die, and this is what is called a heart attack.
How To Recognize The Signs Of A Heart Attack
- People who have survived heart attacks often describe a constricting pain in the chest during the attack.
- As a rule, the pain will always appear in the center of the chest and may eventually move downwards along the length of the left arm and along the back.
- The pain may also spread to the areas of the neck, teeth, and jaws.
- The intensity of the pain may change. Usually, the pain lasts for much longer than five minutes but doesn’t affect a person’s breathing.
- A prickly sensation is also commonly felt during a heart attack. It is almost always restricted to the left arm. Very often, this will be accompanied by a sticky, cold sweat and feelings of nausea. You may even throw up.
- When a heart attack reaches its peak, people experience a fear which is focused exclusively on the feelings of pain in their chest. This leads them on to believe that they might die, thus inducing fright and anxiety.
- As a rule, in addition to the above, the individual will also often experience fast-paced breathing, apart from certain cases when the heart attack triggers a panic attack.
If it turns out that you or someone else is having a heart attack, it could lead to death if you don’t receive or seek immediate medical help. If you find yourself or anyone else displaying the above symptoms for more than 4 to 5 minutes, call an ambulance without any further delay. If that’s not possible, ask someone around to take you or the patient to the nearest hospital as soon as possible.
Heartburn and heart attack are very different conditions, yet, it’s possible for people to confuse the two because they have such similar symptoms. Heartburn is not a serious problem and can definitely be cured, sometimes even without the help of medication. Heart attacks, on the other hand, can cause lasting damage and can even be fatal.Therefore, it is essential to seek immediate medical attention if you’re suffering from any kind of chest pain. Never try and diagnose the problem yourself, ignore the symptoms, or wait for things to get worse. Rather, it’s best that a doctor rules out the possibility of a heart attack as soon as possible. This is especially applicable to women since they tend to have an increased risk of heart attack.