Q. I’m too busy to write to anyone about anything, but I just had to respond to your column about the single mom with heartburn. You told her to see her doctor, but you weren’t nearly emphatic enough.
My friend and co-worker didn’t like going to doctors. Last year, she thought she had heartburn for a few weeks. She took antacids and thought no more of it. Then she died in her sleep of heart problems. She was 51 years old, with grown children and grandchildren. What a tragic, preventable loss! If only she had gone to a doctor about her symptoms, she’d still be alive.
I know that if I ever have an unusual case of heartburn, I’ll be quick to see a doctor.
A. Thank you for reminding us that all unusual or persistent symptoms deserve prompt medical attention. Common sense is essential in self-diagnosis. Some people manage to convince themselves they are suffering from heartburn when they are really having a heart attack.
Women are more likely to have atypical symptoms than men. The classic complaint of “having an elephant sitting on your chest” doesn’t always occur for women. They may also not have pain radiating down their left arm or jaw pain as men sometimes do when they experience a heart attack.
Another reader told us about a cousin who thought he had heartburn. He took baking soda but was actually having a heart attack and died.
Any unusual discomfort in the chest area, especially if it persists, should be assessed at an emergency department. Anyone who shows up in such a facility complaining of severe chest pain should never have to wait.