Most of us are familiar with the signs of heartburn: a burning sensation, pressure in the chest, and indigestion. But many people don’t know that other conditions can mimic heartburn. One of the most common is angina, which is a sign of heart disease.
Why would acid in the esophagus (the cause of heartburn) cause the same feeling as a heart problem? Because the nerves in the chest are less sensitive than those in, say, the hand. That means it’s easy for the brain to confuse the signals, registering injury in the stomach, lungs, or heart in approximately the same way.
It’s important to note that heartburn isn’t a disorder itself. Rather, it’s a symptom of an underlying medical problem. To diagnose that problem, patients should visit a medical expert. The symptoms could be a gastrointestinal disorder, but they could also be a sign of heart disease, usually angina. Patients should visit the doctor for any kind of chest pain, or for any heartburn that recurs three or more times per week, for at least two weeks. Other symptoms that require immediate medical attention include the following:
- Pain or difficulty swallowing
- Bloody vomit
- Black or bloody stool
- Shortness of breath
- Dizziness or light-headedness
- Pain radiating to the neck or shoulders
Correct Diagnosis is Key
Since heart disease can pose a serious health threat, it’s critical to diagnose it correctly. If heartburn-like symptoms persist, they could be caused by another condition like pulmonary embolism or coronary artery disease. Called angina, the chest pain that results from coronary artery disease is a symptom, rather than a discrete condition. It occurs when the heart muscles are deprived of oxygen, causing pain to radiate in the chest.
- Stable angina generally follows a predictable pattern. Patients can anticipate when their angina will flare up, and treat it with rest and/or medication. Although stable angina isn’t a symptom of a heart attack, it does mean that the heart is more prone to heart attacks in the future.
- Unstable angina requires immediate medical attention, as it can be a symptom of imminent heart attack. It sometimes, but not always, follows physical activity and usually isn’t relieved by rest or medication.
- Microvascular angina sometimes causes more severe symptoms. It occurs when a patient has coronary microvascular disease (MVD), a disease of the tiniest arteries in the heart. Microvascular angina is more common among women.
- Prinzmetal’s angina, sometimes called variant angina, is relatively rare. This form of the condition usually surfaces overnight, and can generally be controlled with rest and medication.
Yet angina isn’t necessarily the only cause of non-heartburn chest pain. Lung infection, pericarditis, pulmonary embolism, aortic dissection, and panic attack can all result in chest pain. That’s why it’s so important to see a doctor right away to obtain an accurate diagnosis.
If you have questions about chest pain, heartburn, or heart disease, please contact us at Regional Medical Center Bayonet Point. Our Heart Institute offers unparalleled care for patients with a wide range of cardiovascular conditions. Visit us online or call Consult-a-Nurse® at (727) 869-5498 for health information and free physician referrals.