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

en the heartburn occurs. "Patients usually get it 30 to 45 minutes after a meal," Fass said.

If the heartburn follows consumption of a specific food, it's probably run-of-the-mill heartburn, he said. But even this could become severe and need prompt medical attention.

"If you have heartburn, and it's associated with symptoms such as pain during swallowing, difficulty swallowing, loss of appetite or throwing up blood, then you have to see a doctor right away, within the next 24 to 48 hours," Fass said.

Those symptoms might indicate damage to the esophagus, or even cancer, Fass said.

See a doctor if heartburn is severe and begins to affect quality of life. A medical visit in such an instance, though, would not be as urgently needed as it would be for those with pain and swallowing problems along with heartburn.

If heartburn is a new experience, have it checked out. "That needs to be evaluated pretty quickly," Dave said, because it could point to a heart problem.

People with first-time heartburn and risk factors for heart disease -- including high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, a family history of heart problems and active cigarette smoking -- also should seek prompt medical help, Dave said.

Other reasons to talk to a doctor or go to the emergency room?

  • If heartburn accompanies exercise or other exertion. "That is a huge red flag," Dave said.
  • If a severe episode of heartburn does not get better despite such remedies as antacids.
  • If heartburn comes with other symptoms, such as shortness of breath or arm pain.

Heartburn during pregnancy, on the other hand, is usually not cause for concern, Dave said, because most often it is not heart-related.

Garden-variety heartburn should subside fairly quickly, Dave and Fass said. An episode might last up to a few hours, Fass said, and then disappear in varying lengths
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