Is this a heart attack?

Is this a heart attack?

mistaken identities

Is this a heart attack?

Chest discomfort, pain and shortness of breath are symptoms normally associated with a heart attack. However, these symptoms also overlap with one of the most common conditions experienced by people — heartburn or acid indigestion and reflux.

This is why people experiencing a heart attack may often confuse their symptoms for a simple case of acid reflux, and can land themselves in grave danger. Similarly, a chest pain caused by acid indigestion can also be mistaken for a heart attack by some patients.

For the record, heartburn has nothing to do with the heart, despite its name. It is a term used for acid indigestion that affects the oesophagus or the food pipe. Since the latter is situated right next to the heart in the human body, a discomfort in the food pipe gives you discomfort in the chest, which is also why the symptoms arising from a heart-related issue is often confused by people for an acidity issue.

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 is interrupted, which can even lead to death if timely treatment isn’t provided.

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 as they look at them to be ignorable instances of acid reflux. Signs of a previous heart attack are discovered only after they suffer a major attack and seek medical help. Precious time is lost in such cases because the disease could have been better controlled in its earlier stages.

Usually, 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 region or if similar type of symptoms have been prevalent since many months or years, it usually points to stomach or oesophagus problem. But if these are recent, or there have been changes in the nature of symptoms or you have trouble walking and climbing stairs, then it is mostly related to the heart and the patient has to head to a doctor immediately.

Another important thing to remember is that if the so-called acidity or gas symptoms persist for more than 20 minutes after taking antacids, then it is most likely a heart attack. Commonly, acidity occurs due to overeating and a lack of exercise. Doing regular yoga is one of the best ways 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. It is better to reach a doctor on time. Best not to regret later.

(The author is executive director, cardiac sciences, Fortis Escorts Heart Institute & Research Centre, New Delhi)

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