Is It A Heart Attack Or Just Heartburn
December 22, 2013

Christmastime Chest Pains Not To Be Ignored, Says Gastroenterologist

redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports - Your Universe Online

Undoubtedly, many people will experience heartburn from over-indulging on food and drink this holiday season, but how can you be sure the symptoms you’re experiencing aren’t signs of something more serious.

According to Dr. Lubin F. Arevalo, an assistant professor of medicine specializing in gastroenterology at the Baylor College of Medicine, heartburn is one symptom of chronic acid reflux. Other symptoms include the sensation that stomach fluids are backing up into the throat (regurgitation), difficulty swallowing, and chest pain – which can also be indicative of a heart attack.

“Some people suffer from chest pain that they describe as comparable to a heart attack,” Dr. Arevalo explained in a statement Friday. “Although chest pain can be potentially caused by reflux disease, it is important to see a doctor right away to rule out a heart attack as well as learn about your heart attack risk factors.

“We never embark on a search for reflux as a cause of chest pain until a thorough cardiac evaluation shows us that the pain is not coming from the heart,” he added. “Once we know the pain is not caused by heart issues, it is time to see a gastroenterologist who can help make a diagnosis and determine the right line of treatment.”

Left unaddressed, acid reflux could lead to esophageal cancer or other complications, Dr. Arevalo said. Treatment options for the condition often include lifestyle changes, such as cutting out fried food and late-night snacking, quitting smoking and losing weight. Medications designed to decrease or eliminate stomach acid could also be prescribed.

“Seeing a doctor is also important for patients whose condition does not improve with these treatments,” the college said. Those individuals “may have uncontrolled reflux” or “a different problem that can cause symptoms that are similar to reflux,” in which case they could “benefit from additional testing using reflux monitoring studies.”

“Bottom line, talk to your doctor,” Dr. Arevalo, who is certified by the American Board of Internal Medicine, added. “For chest pain that is not coming from the heart, reflux is an important possible explanation and establishing the cause will help find a solution.”

Earlier this month, Kaiser Permanente Division of Research gastroenterologist Dr. Douglas Corley and his colleagues discovered that two types of drugs often used to treat acid reflux – proton-pump inhibitors (PPIs) and histamine 2 receptor antagonists (H2RAs) – could increase a person’s risk of developing a vitamin B12 deficiency.

"This doesn't mean people should stop their medications. People take these for good reasons. They improve quality of life and prevent disease,” Dr. Corley told Reuters on December 10. However, he added it was “a cause for concern” and would appear to indicate that “people who are taking these medications should have their B12 levels checked.”