Keeping Your Ticker in Tip Top Shape

By Danielle Pastula
Anatomy heart model on stand in classroom

As we get older, more and more foods get added to the indigestion list. Our favorite indulgences or even food items that were once normal during dinner now keep us lying awake with pain, wondering if the food was really worth it.

Whether you’re someone who experiences heartburn frequently, or not all, some episodes of chest pain can be enough to set off alarm of a possible heart attack. But how do you know for sure? Here’s the breakdown to see what your ticker is telling you:

How to Distinguish Heartburn from a Heart Attack

Oddly, heartburn has nothing to do with your heart. Heartburn occurs when acids from your stomach travel up to the esophagus, which is sensitive to acid, causing pain in the chest, neck and throat.

A heart attack, or myocardial infarction, occurs when the flow of blood is blocked off to a section of the heart muscle, causing oxygen deprivation. If blood flow isn’t restored quickly, that section of the heart muscle may die.

While both heart attacks and heartburn can be characterized by pressure, squeezing and tightness of the chest, some of the distinguishing symptoms for a heart attack include dizziness, pain in the upper extremities such as your neck, back, and arms (especially your left arm), shortness of breath, nausea and sudden sweatiness or clamminess.

In an interview by the American Heart Association with Dr. Mary Ann Bauman, a practicing physician and medical director of women’s health at INTEGRIS Health Systems, she said, “I tell my patients that if you belch and the symptoms go away, it probably isn’t related to your heart but to your esophagus, but if you have shortness of breath or sweating, then it’s likely a heart-related issue.”

However, because heartburn and heart attacks can be difficult to distinguish, especially if you’re someone who is prone to heartburn discomfort, if you’re truly uncertain and experiencing pain that doesn’t subside within a few minutes, it’s better to be cautious and seek the immediate attention of a medical professional.

Healthy Heart Vitals

The most important vital signs related to your heart health include your resting heart rate, blood pressure, fasting glucose, cholesterol and your CRP (C-reactive protein) levels. If any of these vitals do not fall within a healthy range based on your weight, height and age, you’ll want to take some of the simple steps in addition to following the guidance provided by your physician.


The good news about your heart health is that it is largely dependent on lifestyle factors, such as your diet and activity. However, this may also mean you’ll have a lot of changes to make if you want to reduce your chance of having a heart attack as you get older.

  • Stop smoking! According to the American Heart Association, people who smoke a pack of cigarettes a day are twice as likely to suffer a heart attack as non-smokers.
  • Clean up your diet of excess salt, sugar, fat and cholesterol Eat more whole foods, less processed foods and put more vegetables on your plate than animal fats.
  • Gain control of your blood pressure. This may mean taking medication if your blood pressure is hereditary or something you can’t completely control with a lifestyle change, such as lowering your stress and anxiety.
  • Get your blood pumping more frequently with exercise! If you’re someone who never exercises, starting off small is the way to go. Try getting out for a short walk after dinner to get some cardiovascular activity and help with digestion, then steadily increase your distance and frequency.
Please consult your doctor if you experience any pain or discomfort you believe to be related to your heart. Please consult your doctor before you change your diet or ingest any new medications or vitamins and for updates on your vitals.

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