Avera Medical Minute AHH: Heart attack vs heartburn

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Every year, about 715,000 Americans have a heart attack; that’s one every 43 seconds! Time is of the essence when it comes to seeking emergency medical attention for a heart attack.

“The signs and symptoms of heart attacks are a little hard to sort out from different ideologies of chest pain,” said Dr. Jeffrey Anderson, Avera Emergency Medicine Physician.

Are you experiencing a heart attack or heartburn? It’s a more common question than you think. Dr. Anderson says a heart attack and heartburn present very similar symptoms including chest pain, fullness or choking. Additionally in Women, neck or jaw pain can fall under either category as well.

“I think if you’re experiencing chest pain and it’s something out of the ordinary for you, please don’t be afraid to come in and get it evaluated. We can’t tell just based on symptoms what the ideology of your chest pain is. We do an array of tests and different types of evaluations to try to sort it out -- fairly classically presents is a chest heaviness or tightness associated with shortness of breath, maybe nausea or sweating,” said Dr. Anderson.

So how do we as patients decipher between the two?

“You can’t really know that in a lot of cases. Some people, if they have these symptoms fairly frequently, they can sort it out or they can try something to make it better. Nitro isn’t generally going to make your heartburn better. Maalox isn’t going to help your heart attack,” said Dr. Anderson.

If you take an antacid and your chest pain persists, Dr. Anderson says get emergency help right away.

“Don’t be afraid to come in. It might be heartburn; let’s find out, get that treated. If it is heart disease, we’ll save your life,” said Dr. Anderson.

“Just that burning sensation and if you have it, most people know ‘oh I know what that feels like,’” said Mary Beth Russell, registered dietician at Avera Heart Hospital.

Russell says it’s often hard to pin-point what cause heartburn as it varies per person.

“What we as dietitians often do is have people keep a food diary and kind of note when they’re having those symptoms, and then kind of look back and see if there’s any pattern to what may be has been the cause,” said Russell.

Russell says by changing your diet, you may be able to lessen your heartburn.

“In general, just more healthier types of foods would be my recommendation. I would say if in doubt, get yourself to the ER and get checked out because you never want to say oh it’s probably just heartburn, “said Russell.

For more information just call 877-AT-AVERA.