Indigestion and Heart Attack

Indigestion and Heart Attack


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Have you ever wondered about the relationship between indigestion and heart attack?

Abdominal pain, nausea (feeling like vomiting) and actually vomiting may be the only symptom or one of the major symptoms in many individuals having a heart attack.

These symptoms are often thought to be due to an "indigestion" or "heartburn". This has often caught even doctors off guard, with ugly consequences for the patient.

Symptoms of indigestion and heart attack goes hand in glove frequently, that one needs to be able to recognise when an “indigestion” is due to a heart attack to avoid sudden preventable death.

We shall examine the symptoms of an “indigestion and heart attack”, as against a normal indigestion. We shall also see why a heart attack should ever present like indigestion or heartburn. Finally, we would be presenting a real life case report of indigestion and heart attack, and what was done to avert disaster.

The full discussion of heart attack is left out of this site, as we attempt to concentrate only on all the possible causes of abdominal pain. We shall however briefly talk about what heart attack is? What are the causes and how it can be diagnosed? You can read more about heart attack here.

Heartburn or heart Attack

Ordinary indigestion or heartburn occurs frequently in most people across all age group. It often presents as a mild to moderate nagging pain in the upper abdomen, just below sternum (central chest bone).

The pain is usually continuous, may be worse at night, when hungry or by lying flat and relieved by eating. There may be associated feeling of nausea.

In severe cases of heartburn or indigestion, the sufferer may retch or belch intermittently, with the pain spreading to the back, as if one is stabbed with a knife through the front to the back.

This pain may be on going, and relieved by taking antacids, milk or some other medications.

Unlike plain indigestion, the symptoms of an indigestion and heart attack are different.

The sufferer is often over 40 years of age, there may be previous medical problems like high blood pressure, or high levels of cholesterol. There may be a history of someone in the family (his or her parent’s) who suffers from heart troubles.

The pain will come on suddenly, worsened by exercise or walking up the stairs or any little exertion.

The character of the pain may clearly be different, even in those who have suffered heartburns in the past.

One symptom to look out for is that the pain from indigestion due to a heart attack may actually spread to the left shoulder and or arm.

It may be associated with cold sweats, violent vomiting, feeling of the heart racing (palpitations), general weakness and shortness of breath.

If you are having any of these last couple of symptoms with an indigestion, the chances are that you are having a heart attack, and you need to call out for the doctor no matter what time of the night it is, who will be able to verify whether you are having just a heartburn or heart attack!

Why Indigestion and heart Attack

A heart attack sometimes present like indigestion or heartburns for a couple of reasons.

First, the heart, lower oesophagus, and upper stomach are lying in a position of relatively close proximity.

Injury to the heart, with subsequent pain arising from it can thus be confused as due to pain arising from the stomach or lower oesophagus, just like a screaming call from your neighbour’s apartment may be mistaken to be coming out of your apartment by an unwary observer.

A second reason why abdominal pain and vomiting may occur following a heart attack, mimicking indigestion is that the heart and the stomach, as well as the lower oesophagus shares the same nerve supply called the vagus nerve.

During a heart attack, this nerve is often stimulated, and would lead to faint feeling, slowing of the heart, nausea, and vomiting.

A third reason for an “indigestion and heart attack” appearing to occur together is that the stress occurring with a heart attack may affect blood flow to the stomach. If this occurs, part of the lining of the stomach wall may be affected by this tress.

Having said the above, remember that heart attack could occur in many people, especially those with diabetics, without any symptoms or signs.

A Case Report

Mr Cooke is a 66 years old retired electrical engineer. He is known to suffer with high blood pressure and gout.

While lying on a sofa, watching a late night movie, he developed sudden onset upper abdominal pain. The pain is moderate in severity, describing it as 4 to 5 out of 10, assuming that 10 is the score for the most severe pain one could ever feel, and 0 is no pain.

He felt like vomiting. He dismissed this as indigestion, and had a cup of tea to “wash down” the indigestion.

He went to bed. The pain woke him up at mid night, now 6 out of 10, spreading to the neck and jaw, and associated with vomiting. He was feeling cold, yet sweating, and felt dizzy.

Mrs Cooke called out an ambulance, and on arrival to the Emergency department of the local hospital, preliminary tests done showed that Mr Cooke have just had a massive heart attack.

He was admitted into the coronary care unit for three weeks, and discharged home after seven weeks in the hospital and two heart operations.

The doctors thought that Mr Cooke was extremely lucky to still be alive. So, if you suspect you may be having indigestion and heart attack, the right thing to do is to call the doctor immediately.

For more information on indigestion and heart attack, see here.

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