We begin with a Mini-Case Study Scenario, which will lead us to some heart-burning questions about GERD:
Mr. Smyth had a pleasant Sunday dinner. In fact he over-ate a little bit. He sits down to watch a favorite television show. Then he is assaulted with a sharp, burning pain. He freezes with fear. Naturally, he thinks the pain might be a heart attack.
The pain burns, fills up his chest. He’s had heartburn before, but this feels worse. Mr. Smyth lays down on the couch, and the pain increases, and he wonders anxiously, “could this be really be heart burn, or a heart attack?” It could be gastroesophageal reflux disease, also named with the acronym “GERD.” To understand GERD, let’s look at a three part definition:
According to Mayo Clinic, acid reflux and GERD are not exactly synonymous. “Acid reflux is the backward flow of stomach acid into the esophagus — the tube that connects the throat and stomach.” Actually the term “acid reflux” has been shortened from the more specific, more medical term, “gastroesophageal reflux.”
During gastroesophageal acid reflux, “you may taste regurgitated food or sour liquid at the back of your mouth or feel a burning sensation in your chest.” That burning is more commonly called heartburn. In some cases, acid reflux becomes GERD. Simply put, GERD is a “more severe form of reflux.”
The Common Symptoms of GERD:
1. Frequent heartburn.
2. Regurgitation of food or sour, burning liquid, which rises in the back of your throat.
3. Difficulty swallowing, coughing, wheezing, and chest pain. Tip: This symptom often happens when you are lying down at night.
Let’s return to our burning question: Is Mr. Smyth having a Heart Attack or Heartburn? We now give you Five Questions to Ask yourself in his situation:
1. What type of pain is it?
It’s Probably GERD if…the burning pain of GERD moved up Mr. Smyth’s throat, as acid surges up. GERD would also be indicated if bending over, lying down, or lifting something heavy increases the pain.
It’s Quite Possibly A Heart Attack if…dull pressure or “pain in the center of your chest comes on suddenly and severely. Feelings of fullness or tightness also could occur, as though someone is squeezing your chest. The pain might spread to your arms, shoulders, or neck, something that rarely occurs with heartburn.”
2. What other are the other symptoms?
Another symptom of GERD is a strongly sour taste in the back of your mouth. This is from the acid reflux. In contrast, “heart attacks often produce cold sweats, a symptom not common in heartburn, as well as light-headedness, nausea, shortness of breath, and heart palpitations.” http://www.everydayhealth.com/gerd/understanding/is-it-gerd-or-a-heart-attack.aspx
3. What did the pain interrupt?
Timed like clockwork, GERD related heartburn typically starts about 30 to 45 minutes after a big meal. This is especially true if you lie down. Incidents of GERD are often caused by your own food selections in your nutrition. Here is a short list of foods that might trigger an attack: fatty foods, acidic foods, spicy foods, or foods containing caffeine or mint. In contrast, “heart attacks often occur after physical exertion that spikes your blood pressure. They also are more likely to occur during times of high stress — for example, most heart attacks occur in December and January, around the holidays.”
4. What is the duration of the pain?
GERD related heartburn pain typically fades away after about 5 to 10 minutes. In contrast, heart attack pain lasts longer, and might fade briefly, only to return.
5. What makes the pain go away?
You will be relieved to know that GERD related heartburn yields to antacids. In contrast, “heart attack pain will respond to nitroglycerin tablets.” The Center for Natural and Integrative Medicine wants you to know that even if you do not believe you are having a heart attack, you should still contact your doctor if you are suffering chest pain.
If it is a heart attack, immediate treatment could save your life. If it is GERD, rather than a heart attack, there are diet and lifestyle options, as well as medications which can calm your symptoms. GERD can cause physical damage to your esophagus, so you should be checked by your healthcare professional.
Fortunately, Mr. Smyth, our fictional case study, solved his simple heartburn problem with a weight loss, and a diet that removed fatty foods and caffeine from his diet!
Once again, we thank you for reading our blog. We of the Center for Natural and Integrative Medicine hope your 2014 New Year has begun with success, health and joy.