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Heart Attack Masquerades As Heartburn

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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.

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My mother was 82 and lived alone in an apartment. One day when I visited her I noticed a bottle of Pepto Bismol which appeared to have been used frequently. I asked her why she was taking so much. She responded that she'd had terrible indigestion for over a week. I took her to the ER where it was discovered she had a blockage. She was sent to another hospital for heart catheterization and within a day had a quadruple heart bypass. She recovered very well from the operation. It was only a matter of time before she has a heart attack. If I hadn't visited her frequently I'm sure she would have not told anyone and wouldn't have received help in time.

In 2002 my mother experienced "indigestion" on a Sunday morning. We were getting together as a family that day to visit my sister who was recovering from surgery, so she just took some antacids and continued with our plans. By the time we arrived she was feeling dizzy and turning gray. EMS took her to the hospital, but her heart was disintegrating and she died about 12 hours after onset of "indigestion". NSAID's played a role in the deterioration of her heart, but that is another issue. Strangely enough, it was April 22, 2002 when she died!

Have had heartburn--BAD heartburn--off and on for years. Did the usual--Tums and/or baking soda.

The VA did a cardiogram and told me I had had three heart attacks, all unknown to me.

However, they did NOT tell me that bad heartburn or indigestion could be a sign of a heart attack. They put two stents in me, telling me this would cure my shortness of breath. But almost a year later, can tell absolutely no difference. Of course, am on lots of meds, with warfarin leading the list. Am trying to get them to change me to Pradaxa as side effects are reportedly much less and no dietary restrictions as with warfarin.

Biggest improvement has come from putting myself on a gluten-free diet, which has helped lose weight, reduced many aches and pains, and also greatly reduced indigestion symptoms.

When I was 48, I also had intense burning in my stomach - my doctor treated it as reflux, which I had in the past. It went on for weeks, despite using Prilosec, Gaviscon, etc. I finally insisted on a stress test, since my family has a history of heart disease. They kept telling me that I was OK because I was a woman, "young", my blood pressure was OK, EKG was normal, did not smoke, and did not have typical symptoms.

However, the stress test showed almost a complete blockage, and my doctor didn't get notified until he was leaving the office that night. I almost died! Women, do not ignore symptoms. and be persistent if you think something's not right !!

THIS IS EXACTLY WHAT HAPPENED TO ME 3 YEARS AGO.....I WAS 74, IN EXTREMELY GOOD HEALTH, AND NO PROBLEMS WITH ACID REFLUX ETC. YET I FOUND MYSELF WITH THE SAME SYMPTOMS DESCRIBED ABOVE.......HEART BURN, FEELING LIKE I HAD TO BURP ETC.

I TOO TRIED OTC REMEDIES LIKE TUMS BUT NOTHING HELPED. I WAITED ABOUT A DAY BEFORE I WENT TO SEE MY DR......HE CALLED FOR AN AMBULANCE AND WITHIN AN HOUR I WAS IN THE HOSPITAL AND GOT A STENT PUT IN......AND YES, WOMEN SHOULD BE MADE AWARE OF THIS TYPE OF HEART ATTACK.

THIS IS MY SISTER AND I THANK GOD SHE WENT TO HER DOCTOR... I STILL HAVE HER IN MY LIFE! IF you have a sister, mother, cousin, aunt, best girlfriend (and yourself) heed the "heartburn" warning, don't wait! GO SEE YOUR DOCTOR OR GO THE THE E.R. THE LIFE YOU SAVE MAY BE YOUR OWN!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I have seen articles about how women's heart symptoms are different than men's, but they did not include description of women's "atypical" symptoms, rather simply stating that women often do not have the "typical" symptoms of men. I would like to know more about the sort of symptoms women get - which apparently include heartburn symptoms. What else? Do you know of a good site for more information on women's heart symptoms?

PEOPLE'S PHARMACY RESPONSE: THIS SITE MIGHT BE HELPFUL: http://usgovinfo.about.com/cs/healthmedical/a/womensami.htm

Another clue: My mother called her doctor and asked for help with the "hyper-ventilating" she was experiencing. He called in a prescription for anti-anxiety medication. In a week the condition worsened and my brother took her to the ER where it was discovered she had at some point suffered a heart attack. If she had gotten a correct diagnosis earlier her heart might not have been so badly damaged which led to her death.

please tell us what you mean when you say "heart burn". What symptoms are you referring to? I may have been confusing this with acid reflux.

I had many heartburn issues, stomach problems and general indigestion. It all went away when I quit eating wheat. There are many reasons for gastrointestinal issues and they should be dealt with in some manner. By the way, doctors always said there was nothing wrong with me since I didn't fit into any of the categories they felt produced stomach problems.

Echoing abigail @ 4/22/3:45PM -- Pleeeeeeese, what is meant by "heartburn"?

Does heartburn connected to heart problems seem different from, say, a reaction to hot food or something like that?

Any and all descriptions would be helpful--one person's description might mean nothing, but just one person's could really help.

When I was first on Synthroid after my thyroidectomy, many on my thyca chat board would talk about heart palpitations, but I had no idea what they might feel like. (Interestingly, I was never warned by any of my doctors about heart palpitations, which was not unusual I gathered. Several people on the thyca chat board had actually been sent to ER's, heart specialists, some had to wear special monitors for days, before anyone in the medical field put the symptoms together with their taking suppressive levels of synthetic thyroid hormone! A deficit in medical teaching?)

Then, after an increase in dosage to try to fight fatigue, I began having a feeling, when lying down, of a... gerbil... or small animal of some sort... tumbling around in my chest. I was not aware of any increase in pulse rate.

After several people responded to my request for their own descriptions, most of which didn't fit what I thought I was feeling, a guy wrote that for him palpitations felt like a small goldfish flopping around inside his chest.

Bingo! That exactly captured what I would feel. Got a dosage adjustment, fewer flopping goldfish!

So, please share how you can best describe what this kind of heartburn feels like to you; it really might help someone.

I am especially interested in the kinds of diets I need to observe. One person mentioned that they felt better when the quit eating wheat. I want to try it now, because I like everything whole wheat. Is there anything else that has worked for you folks out there?

Since I last wrote, I have been changed from warfarin to Pradaxa. No one told me that indigestion, heartburn, are typical side effects. Had heartburn attack that was unbelievable!! On right side of thorax, about a foot high, from bottom of ribcage up (vertical). But no OTHER symptoms. Went away after I drank big glass of water, and has not reoccurred. Was it a heart attack? I don't know, will find out when next I visit the VA.

But DID find out, by a websearch, that heartburn is a typical side effect of Pradaxa, which has been on the market only about five months, so as yet no lengthy reports on side effects.

I am glad I came across this site...I have been having many different symptoms for a couple of months...and I went to a walk in clinic he told me it nothing to do with a heart attack...I was worried because my Dad passed away from a heart attack at age 54 and I am 50...my symptoms I have are burning and sometimes pressure in my chest...sweaty at times, nausea and vomiting, tired a lot even though I do not work, my left leg feels funny some times almost numb, anyways he ruled it out and gave me medication for stomach acid... to do with reflux... does any of this make sense... please tell me what you would do...

I am a single Mom and I don't want to leave my 11 year old son, his sister passed away and he would have no where to go... so it worries me.
Thank you and God Bless
Anna

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