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Telling Heartburn From Heart Attack Can Be Tricky
Date:5/5/2009

Because of similar symptoms, doctors urge overreaction if in doubt,,

TUESDAY, May 5 (HealthDay News) -- It begins as a sharp, burning sensation in the chest, near the breastbone or ribs. But is the pain heartburn, or might it be a heart attack?

"It's often difficult for people to tell the difference,'' said Dr. Ravi Dave, a cardiologist and associate clinical professor of medicine at the David Geffen School of Medicine at the University of California, Los Angeles.

Complicating the issue is that some people with diagnosed heart disease will also have heartburn, Dave said. "Those are the patients who don't want to say, 'Oh, this is just heartburn' and not worry about it," he said.

Dr. Ronnie Fass, a gastroenterologist and professor of medicine at the University of Arizona, agreed. If you have any heart history, he said, a cardiologist should be consulted.

But even people without known heart disease who have heartburn shouldn't always just pop an over-the-counter antacid either, the doctors said. Overreacting in seeking medical help, they said, is always better than underreacting.

In garden-variety heartburn, stomach acid moves up into the esophagus and causes irritation. It might require a doctor's intervention, though, to rule out that what a person is feeling stems from heartburn and not heart problems, which can have similar symptoms.

So what's a person to do?

Pay attention to the pattern of heartburn. If people have heartburn on a regular basis after eating specific foods -- every time they dig into a greasy pepperoni pizza or drink a large glass of orange juice, for instance -- the food is generally the origin, Dave said.

They should worry, however, if they start having heartburn and have not eaten any of the food or drinks that previously triggered a heartburn episode. That would merit a call for medical help, he said.

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