Heartburn vs. Heart Attack vs. Stroke: When Should You Worry? - Wakunaga of America


Heartburn vs. Heart Attack vs. Stroke: When Should You Worry?

Imagine you’ve just spent a wonderful evening complete with a delicious meal. But a couple of hours later, you suddenly experience a painful sensation in the middle of your chest. Is it heartburn or could it be something more serious?

Of the more than eight million visits to the ER for chest pain each year, severe heartburn accounts for over half the cases. That’s because many people, including those with GERD, mistake their symptoms for a heart attack.3,4

Heartburn is a type of indigestion that occurs when the contents of your stomach splashes up into your esophagus. Your esophagus is a tube that allows food to be transported from the mouth to the stomach. Normally, a flap at the end of the esophagus—known as the lower esophageal sphincter (LES)—would close once the food reaches your stomach, preventing stomach acid and partially digested food from flowing back up into the esophagus.2 But if your LES isn’t functioning properly, heartburn can occur. And that can cause pain or pressure in your chest, irritation or a burning sensation in your throat, difficulty swallowing, and even nausea.5

Eating certain foods, consuming alcohol, obesity, smoking, and the routine use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications are common triggers for heartburn.6,7 The most likely food culprits include:

  • Alcohol
  • Carbonated beverages
  • Citrus fruit
  • Coffee
  • Chocolate
  • Fatty foods
  • Fried foods
  • Peppermint
  • Spicy foods
  • Tomato-based foods 7

While heartburn itself isn’t a fatal condition, long-term GERD can damage the esophagus and increase the risk of developing Barrett’s esophagus. Barrett’s esophagus is a condition in which tissue that is similar to the lining of your intestine replaces the tissue lining your esophagus. Over time, this can increase the risk of esophageal cancer.8

Heart Attack Facts

While chest pain may be a sign of heartburn, it can also signal a heart attack. But, instead of a burning sensation, a heart attack can manifest as a feeling of pressure, tightness, or pain that radiates from the center of the chest to the shoulders, neck, or arms. Like heartburn, nausea can also be a sign of an impending heart attack. But there are some distinct dissimilarities in the symptoms between heartburn and a heart attack.9

According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, other symptoms of a heart attack can include:

  • Breaking out in a cold sweat
  • Indigestion
  • Irregular heart beat
  • Lightheadedness or dizziness
  • Shortness of breath
  • Unexplained fatigue 10

However, it’s important to note that women can experience a heart attack differently. Just like their male counterparts, the most common symptom women experience is chest pain or discomfort. But unlike men, women often experience other symptoms that are typically less associated with heart attack, such as shortness of breath, nausea/vomiting, and back or jaw pain. 9 Another difference? Women are more than twice as likely as men to die from a heart attack.11

Is It a Heart Attack or a Stroke?

Heart attacks and strokes also have some similarities—especially when it comes to the underlying cause. This is because they are both caused by a sudden blockage of oxygen-rich blood flow. In the case of a heart attack, blood flow is halted to the heart. During a stroke, the blood flow to your brain is interrupted. But here’s what many people don’t know: a heart attack and a stroke can have some similar symptoms, especially in the early stages. For instance, both a heart attack and a stroke can cause the sudden onset of:

  • Chest pain or discomfort
  • Lightheadedness or dizziness
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Shortness of breath
  • General weakness 12

In addition to these symptoms, women can experience agitation, behavioral changes or hallucinations, disorientation, fainting, hiccups, incontinence, or even seizures in the early stages of a stroke. 12,13 But whether you’re a man or a woman, these early symptoms don’t necessarily track with what we typically think of as a stroke (confusion, facial drooping, trouble speaking, or weakness on one side of the body).14 This can make it particularly difficult to tell if an impending stroke is in the cards for you.

While it’s good to be aware of these three conditions and how their symptoms can overlap, recognizing what’s happening with your body in the moment can still be confusing. If you’re unsure if your symptoms are due to heartburn, heart attack, or stroke, don’t hesitate to get to the emergency room as soon as possible for an evaluation.

Practice Prevention

Whether it’s heartburn, a heart attack, or a stroke, you don’t need to wait for symptoms to act. Practicing prevention can help to reduce your risk for each of these conditions.

When it comes to heartburn, you can often stop it before it even starts with some DIY lifestyle changes. First, if you smoke, stop! Not only does smoking increase your risk of heart disease, it can also trigger heartburn.15 It’s also smart to keep track of the foods that may be causing your heartburn, such as spicy foods or tomato products, and cut those out of your normal diet.

You can also reduce your risk of heart attack or stroke by making healthy shifts in your diet and exercise habits. Studies show that eating a Mediterranean-style diet supports a healthy cardiovascular system and reduces the risk factors that contribute to heart attack and stroke.16  Getting at least 150 minutes of exercise each week has also been found to improve cardiovascular health.17

In addition to these lifestyle changes, adding a daily dose of Aged Garlic Extract (AGE) supplements can take your cardiovascular health to the next level. Studies clearly show that AGE helps lower blood pressure, decreases cholesterol, improves circulation, halts the progression of calcium buildup in your coronary arteries, and reduces the accumulation of unstable plaque in arteries.18,19,20,21,22 Along with a heart healthy diet and exercise, AGE can give your cardiovascular system the edge it needs to reduce the risk of a future heart attack or stroke.

Knowing the symptoms of these three health conditions can not only help you determine whether or not you should be concerned, it can also help you decide when to take immediate action. It could even save your life.


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This article is for informational purposes only. This article is not, nor is it intended to be, a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment and should never be relied upon for specific medical advice.