Severe heartburn caused by acid reflux and GERD (gastroesphageal reflux disease) is suffered by millions of people across the globe. Heartburn feels as though one’s heart is on fire. However, this feeling is simply caused by stomach acid being pushed back up into the esophagus, which tends to result in a burning sensation behind the breast bone. Thus, the effects of heartburn are not actually causing the heart any damage.
Unfortunately, it is easy to mistaken an attack of severe heartburn for a heart attack or vice versa. In fact, it is estimated that every year over five million Americans with chest pain, who fear a heart attack, are admitted to emergency. Of these five million cases of chest pain, more than half are noncardiac chest pain cases (NCCP), and as many as 60% of these NCCP cases are GERD related.
How can you distinguish heartburn from a heart attack? Although symptoms may be similar, the following are the symptoms associated with each condition to help you determine your personal diagnosis:
Typical heartburn Symptoms – Discomfort and/or burning pain located directly behind the breastbone, which is often accompanied by burping, bloating or gas. Sometimes an acidic taste can be felt in the back of the throat or mouth. Symptoms are generally worse after eating, especially after large meals. They may also worse after ingesting alcohol, caffeine and after using tobacco.
Heartburn usually feels worse when lying down to rest. Heartburn symptoms may subside after taking an over-the-counter (OTC) antacid. However, in severe heartburn cases, prescribed medication may be the only treatment to provide relief.
Typical Heart Pain – A tight feeling in the middle of the chest that may also feel like squeezing, weight or pressure in the chest. Pain may spread into the shoulders, neck and/or jaw. Sweating and shortness of breath may also accompany symptoms. Heart pain usually occurs after being physically active or exertion.
Heart pain will not subside after taking an antacid but can subside when lying down or from general rest.
When should you seek immediate medical attention? Although the above symptoms are typical for each condition, they may not be the same for everyone. Therefore, it is in your best interest to pay close attention to the symptoms you experience. If you have GERD or are prone to acid reflux, write down the symptoms you feel and refer to these each time you experience heartburn to be sure that is what you are experiencing. If for any reason you experience a symptom you’ve never felt before, or are worried that your condition could be more serious than severe heartburn, Seek Medical Attention Immediately. It’s better to be safe than sorry!
If it turns out that you are suffering a heart attack, the first few hours of your symptoms are critical for effectively saving your heart muscle.
In addition, make sure you see your doctor for regular physical checkups to help ensure that you heart is strong and healthy. Furthermore, if you have not been diagnosed with GERD, but experience frequent chest pains, be sure to bring any symptoms to your doctor’s attention to receive a proper diagnosis.
Finally, if you are suffering from severe heartburn, medication is the only effective treatment to provide quick relief. The following are three types of medications that may provide you quick relief:
– OTC Antacids – Tums, Rolaids, Maalox, and Gelusil.
– OTC or prescription H-2 receptor blockers – OTC Pepcid AC, and Zantac 75 – while prescription meds may be Axid, Tagamet, Pepcid and Zantac
– OTC or prescription Proton pump inhibitors – OTC Prilosec – Prescription Nexium, Prevacid, Aciphex, and Protonix
Keep in mind that taking medication all the time to treat your heartburn isn’t the best way to treat your body, so be sure to discuss alternative treatment with your doctor. Try to avoid severe heartburn in the first place by watching your diet and eating smaller meals at a slower pace.