A Heaping Helping Of Heartburn

Severe heartburn and a heart attack produce similar pain. How can you tell the difference?


  • A sharp, burning sensation just below the breastbone or ribs that does not radiate to the shoulders, neck or arms, though it can.
  • Usually occurs after meals and responds quickly to antacids.
  • Is rarely accompanied by a cold sweat.

  • Fullness, tightness or dull pressure or pain generally in the center of the chest that spreads to the shoulders, neck or arms.
  • May include shortness of breath, a cold sweat and lightheadedness.
  • Responds quickly to nitroglycerin.
    If you have chest pain that lasts for more than a few minutes, seek immediate medical attention.
  • There’s nothing like a whopping country-fried steak with gravy and a double serving of mashed potatoes topped off with a huge dessert to start the fire in your belly known as heartburn.

    Truckers who indulge too heavily in truck stop all-you-can-eat buffets and add in stress and smoking, which are common in trucking, create a fertile ground for a potentially serious health issue.

    Chronic heartburn can indicate other problems, such as gastritis, and can develop into gastro esophageal reflux disease. In that case, the stomach acid can seriously damage your esophagus, even leading to cancer.

    Having persistent heartburn symptoms is associated with a condition called Barrett’s esophagus, in which chronic acid reflux is thought to change the type of cells lining the esophagus. This condition is associated with a much higher risk of developing esophageal cancer and therefore requires regular checkups to look for cancer.

    The basic cause of heartburn is an underactive lower esophageal sphincter (LES), a ring of muscle that encircles the esophagus just above the entrance to the stomach, that doesn’t tighten like it should.

    Two excesses often contribute: too much food in the stomach or too much pressure on the stomach, frequently from obesity. Certain foods commonly relax the LES, and certain medications, especially some antibiotics and aspirin, often lead to heartburn. Stress, which strains the nerves controlling the LES, can cause heartburn, and smoking, which relaxes the LES and stimulates stomach acid, is a major contributor.

    If antacids such as Alka-Seltzer, Mylanta, Maalox, Tums, Rolaids and Gaviscon don’t quell the symptoms, your doctor may recommend over-the-counter heartburn drugs such as Pepcid AC, Tagamet HR, Axid AR or Zantac 75. If symptoms persist, prescription drugs can help.When all else fails, there is surgery in which excess stomach tissue is folded around the esophagus.

    To lower your chances of heartburn:

  • Avoid food and drink that promote acid reflux: tomatoes and other acidic vegetables, citrus fruits, garlic, onions, chocolate, coffee, alcohol, carbonated beverages, mints, fatty foods, spicy foods and milk.
  • Eat smaller, more frequent meals.
  • Don’t lie down soon after eating. Elevate the head of your bed at least 6 inches;
  • Don’t smoke.
  • Lose weight if you are obese.
  • Avoid tight-fitting clothes.