Chest pains: Heartburn or heart attack?

Image by Jo Christian Oterhals via flickr
Image by Jo Christian Oterhals via flickr

The holiday season means friends, family and good cheer, usually taking place around the dinner table. While a big meal may cause heartburn or aggravate chronic acid reflux, Baylor College of Medicine gastroenterology expert Dr. Lubin F. Arevalo, says you should not ignore these symptoms.

“Some people suffer from chest pain that they describe as comparable to a heart attack,” said Dr. Arevalo, assistant professor of medicine – gastroenterology. “Although chest pain can be potentially caused by reflux disease, it is important to see a doctor right away to rule out a heart attack as well as learn about your heart attack risk factors.”

Identifying symptoms

Symptoms of reflux disease may include:

  • Heartburn (a burning feeling in the chest or throat),
  • Regurgitation (the sensation that stomach fluids are backing up into the throat)
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Chest pain
  • Some patients may present with less typical symptoms such as cough, hoarseness, sore throat, sensation of a lump in the throat.

“Once we know the pain is not caused by heart issues, it is time to see a gastroenterologist who can help make a diagnosis and determine the right line of treatment,” he said.

Finding treatments

Some treatment options include lifestyle changes like weight loss, quitting smoking, ending late night snacking and avoiding food triggers such as fried food. There are also medications that can be prescribed to decrease or neutralize stomach acid. In situations where medications are not helpful, more invasive procedures can be recommended.

He said if reflux disease is untreated it could lead to complications including narrowing of the esophagus, esophageal ulcers, precancerous lesions in the esophagus (Barrett’s esophagus).

“Bottom line, talk to your doctor. For chest pain that is not coming from the heart, reflux is an important possible explanation and establishing the cause will help find a solution,” Arevalo said.

Additional Resources

Win the fight against heartburn before it starts

6 lifestyle changes to reduce risks of cardiovascular disease

Keep your sweet treats, cut the calories

-By Graciela Gutierrez

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