Heart attacks happen when there’s a sudden loss of blood flow to a part of the heart muscle, a mechanism normally caused by fatty substances clogging up your arteries. As the British Heart Foundation explains, quick treatment to get the blood flowing to your heart muscle again is essential. This can reduce the amount of permanent damage to your heart and save your life.
The problem is, people tend to ignore the warning signs and delay seeking help because they attribute their symptoms to less serious underlying conditions.
One prime example of this is heartburn, a burning feeling in the chest caused by stomach acid travelling up towards the throat through the esophagus.
The oesophagus id a muscular tube connecting the throat with the stomach
Because the oesophagus and the heart are located near each other, either one can cause chest pain, which is why heartburn is easily confused with having a heart attack, explains the American Heart Association (AHA).
According to the British Heart Foundation (BHF), there are a number of ways to tell the difference between heartburn and a heart attack.
As the BHF explains, if you haven’t experienced heartburn or indigestion before and you’re experiencing persistent burning chest pain or chest pain combined with other heart attack symptoms, phone 999 immediately.
The symptoms of a heart attack are:
- Chest pain or discomfort that suddenly occurs and doesn’t go away. It may feel like pressure, squeezing or heaviness in your chest
- Pain that may spread to your left or right arm or may spread to your neck, jaw, back or stomach
- Feeling sick, sweaty, light-headed or short of breath
If you’re prone to heartburn or indigestion and you’re experiencing the same symptoms as usual, however, take the steps you usually would to ease your discomfort, such as taking some medicine and/or drinking water, advises the health body.
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“If the burning feeling in your chests persists, or it begins to spread to your arms, neck or jaw, phone 999 immediately as you may be having a heart attack,” it warns.
According to Mary Ann Bauman, M.D., author, practicing physician and medical director of women’s health at INTEGRIS Health Systems, there is another way to tell the difference.
“I tell my patients that if you belch and the symptoms go away, it probably isn’t related to your heart but to your esophagus,” Bauman said.
She added: “But if you have shortness of breath or sweating, then it’s likely a heart-related issue.”
According to the AHA, If you’re not sure if it’s heartburn or your heart, seek medical attention right away.
“It’s very easy to confuse the two issues so let a doctor rule out the most severe possibility,” said the health site.
What to do next
According to the NHS, if you have had a heart attack, it’s important that you rest while you wait for an ambulance, to avoid unnecessary strain on your heart.
“If aspirin is available and you are not allergic to it, slowly chew and then swallow an adult-size tablet (300mg) while you wait for the ambulance,” advises the health body.
As it explains, aspirin helps to thin your blood and improve blood flow to your heart.
How to reduce your risk of having a heart attack
According to the British Heart Foundation, there are both risk factors you can control and some that you cannot change.
Controllable risk factors include:
- Eat healthily
- Be physically active
- Keep to a healthy weight and lose weight if necessary
- Don’t smoke
- Cut down on alcohol
- Control high blood pressure
- Control cholesterol levels
- Control blood sugar levels (if you have diabetes).
- Get advice on healthy living
Risk factors you can’t control include:
- Family history
- A previous heart attack