Heartburn or Heart Attack?

Heartburn or heart attack? Both conditions cause chest pain and to make it even more difficult, the two terms resemble each other too. 

Read on to recognize the difference. Discover how heartburn medication can lead to heart problems:


PPI and Heart Failure

Recent research discovered a stunning relationship between acid reflux and heart problems. It seems that certain acid reflux medications, called protons pump inhibitors or PPI's, increase the risk of having congestive heart failure.

"We found that PPIs interfere with the ability of blood vessels to relax," said ghebremariam, a Houston Methodist molecular biologist. "PPIs reduce the ability of human blood vessels to generate nitric oxide. Nitric oxide generated by the lining of the vessel is known to relax, and to protect, arteries and veins."

PPI's suppress a specific enzyme, called DDAH, that is responsible for opening your blood vessels. A lack of DDAH makes your blood pressure rise.

Who Needs To Worry?

Don't worry if you are young and healthy. A small elevation in blood pressure won't harm you.  If you have a history of heart disease, you need to be vigilant. An increased pressure on a weak system can cause problems.


If you have chest pain, it is hard to know where it comes from. Is it heartburn or heart attack? There are some pointers to guide you:


  • dizziness
  • cold sweat
  • physical activity gives shortness of breath
  • chest pain, radiating towards arm, shoulders or neck


  • after meals
  • belching brings relief
  • worse when lying down or bending over
  • responds quickly to antacids or raft forming medication                   

Sometimes it is hard to tell the difference, because one condition can mimic the other.

In fact, you are never sure. To rule out any serious pathology, always contact a physician. 


Vagus Nerve

Your heart and your digestive system have a common, involuntary innervation: the Vagus Nerve. The presence of acid in your esophagus stimulates your vagus nerve. 

Flow And Rhythm Disturbance

Your vagus nerve commands blood flow in the vessels that supply your heart. It innervates the small smooth muscles in the walls of these vessels.  Acid reflux can disturb this mechanism via the vagus nerve and therefore cause heart problems.

Determining the right heart rhythm is another task that your vagus nerve is responsible for. The presence of stomach acid in your esophagus irritates your vagus nerve. Research shows that incorrect signals towards your heart can make your heart beat harder or slower than necessary.  Acid reflux can therefore cause palpitations (if your heart beats to fast) or syncopes (if your heart beats too slow). 


Based upon your story, your doctor can perform medical test to find the source of your symptoms:


An Electrocardiogram checks your heart's electrical activity.  The beating and the rhythm of your heart can show signs of heart damage.

Blood Test

A blood test can reveil a high level of proteins in your blood stream.  Dead heart muscle cells release proteins in your blood in case of heart attack.


gastroscopy looks for irritation of your esophagus due to acid reflux or structural problems such as a hiatal hernia. 

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