One of the most common and misunderstood conditions that sends people to emergency room unnecessarily is ‘heartburn’. Almost all of us have experienced it at some point in our lives, but it is not uncommon to mistake the symptoms as a heart attack. Dr Oz discussed about the common misconceptions and confusions between heartburn and heart attack in a recent episode of his show.
With the help of a model he demonstrated how food travels down our food pipe or esophagus into our stomach and gets mixed up with stomach acid. The stomach wall is particularly capable of resisting damage from its own acid and even secretes more acid once it senses the presence of food. However, this is not the case with esophagus. The esophageal wall is sensitive to stomach acids and often gets irritated causing us to experience pain around the esophageal area or heartburn. To prevent spillage or back-flow of acid into the esophagus, there is a valve between the upper part of stomach and the esophagus that shuts the passage once food enters the stomach. However, this may not be the case always and sometimes stomach acid spills into the esophagus (known as reflux) due to many reasons causing pain, irritation and symptoms that are apparently very similar to heart attack.
What Are The Causes Of The Reflux?
There could be many. One of the major causes is excess body weight. Dr Oz mentioned that excess body weight can press on the stomach walls to cause the acid to percolate through the valve. Spicy foods and caffeinated foods are also able to promote gastric reflux. The other common reason among women could be the use of shapewear. It can do to the body the same thing as obesity does. It squeezes the body into a particular shape putting pressure on the stomach causing the stomach acids to flow back up into the esophagus.
Michelle, a volunteer on the show explained that she got heartburn often at night due to her eating habit that included drinking three glasses of wine. Wine being acidic itself contributes to the total acid present in the stomach and when in excess, some of it can spill back to the esophagus. Dr Oz mentioned that most heart attack pains also are experienced during the night. However, there is difference.
The Difference Between Heart burn And Heart attack:
Heart attack pain generally start at the chest or neck area and travels down the shoulder to the arm. However, heartburn pain stays around the chest and around the swallowing area. The second big difference is heart attack patients would feel like there is an elephant on their chest as opposed to heartburn that feels more like burning as if acid is poured down the inside of the body. As Dr Oz started out to differentiate the symptoms of heartburn from heart attack, he asked Michelle to work with the audience and choose among the various symptoms before her and segregate them under either heartburn or heart attack. It is important to understand the difference in both these conditions to ensure that patients can distinguish their condition and seek the appropriate care.
Heart burn Symptoms Vs. Heart attack Symptoms
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Shortness of Breath
Categorically, dizziness, shortness of breath and cold sweats are associated with heart attack. Heartburn symptoms are more like hoarseness of voice, cough and trouble swallowing in addition to the pain that is common to both the conditions. Dr Oz explained that hoarseness of voice results from the vocal chords being bathed in acid, as does the cough. The esophagus muscles if irritated from too much acid may get refractory and will result in trouble swallowing.
Dr. Oz: Heart attack and Heart burn Remedies
Heart attack is an emergency condition and if the symptoms match, you should immediately seek emergency care. Heartburn can be remedied by chewable antacids available over the counter and also by proton pump inhibitors that block production of acids. However, people on the far side of the spectrum who does not see a relief using the usual therapy, should see their doctor especially if the symptoms last for more than three months. Chronic heartburn can lead to other future complications resulting from excess acidity damaging the mucosal lining of esophagus. Some of the common problems include gastric or esophageal ulcer and hence should not be neglected.