When someone experiences chest pain, their first thought is almost invariably that they are having a heart attack. It’s wise to be wary if you or someone that you care about is experiencing such symptoms because chest pain is indeed one of the more common warning signs of heart attacks. However, chest pain is related to many issues other than heartaches, especially some digestive issues. These will be discussed below.
Types of Chest Pain
Chest pain can sometimes occur if someone is having a heart attack. The pain can be crushing, burning, or sharp. Not everyone who is having a heart attack will have chest pain. Women or individuals who are suffering from diabetes may experience fatigue, weakness, shortness of breath, and greying of the skin instead.1
Chest pain can also be associated with angina, some infections, and digestive issues such as acid reflux.2,3 With acid reflux, the symptoms will usually be worse after you eat a large meal, and you will notice a burning sensation in your chest, as well as a sour taste in your mouth.
How Digestive Issues Can Cause Chest Pain
Digestive chest pain is not a cause for concern if it happens only rarely—for example after over-indulging at a festive meal. If it happens regularly, however, then seek medical advice.
The digestive system is complex. The stomach, intestines, kidneys, and liver all work together to process your food, extract nutrients, and remove waste products, keeping your body operating at its best. The microbes that live in your intestines help break down food as well, and if one part of the system is not working properly, then it can impact your overall health.4
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Digestive chest pain is most commonly caused by heartburn and can be related to dysphagia, overproduction of acid, or a weakened lower-esophageal sphincter.5 In cases where the pain is short-term and clearly brought on by a specific event (ex. eating before exercise, eating food that disagrees with you, or eating a lot of rich foods in one sitting), there is not much cause for concern. Simply avoiding those habits will be enough to stop the pain from coming back.
In cases where the pain is recurring or lasts for a long time, it is important that you work to manage the symptoms because untreated acid reflux can make you vulnerable to other health issues in the future.
Lifestyle Changes to Remedy Digestive Issues
The easiest way to manage heartburn is to eat slowly and eat smaller meals so that your stomach never gets full to the point that you suffer from acid reflux. Avoid common “trigger foods” such as spicy foods and avoid carbonated beverages. Cut down on alcohol and stop smoking because alcohol and nicotine can both relax the lower esophageal sphincter, making acid reflux more likely.6 Try to avoid exercising immediately after meals and avoid lying down after a meal as well.
Some people swear by essential oils to help reduce the symptoms of acid reflux and other digestive issues, and there is some science to back this up. Ginger essential oil, for example, can help to ward off H. pylori bacteria.7 This is the bacteria that is responsible for stomach ulcers. Ginger can also help soothe nausea and reduce the production of stomach acid.8 Another popular remedy for some acid reflux symptoms is orange oil, which can help reduce muscle spasms, thereby reducing heartburn symptoms.9
There is a clear link between stress and heartburn and this is something that people don’t pay enough attention to.10 Stress itself does not necessarily make the symptoms of heartburn worse, but it does reduce the perception of quality of life in those who suffer from heartburn, and it is more likely to make the person feel the need to use heartburn medications.
Sustained stress can make people more susceptible to gastric issues as well. This means that it is important to find productive coping mechanisms if you are under a lot of stress. Regular exercise, meditation, yoga, massage, and aromatherapy are all good options for reducing stress. Choosing one of these instead of using less healthful coping mechanisms could be the first step towards taking control of your symptoms.
The link between stress and disease, in general, is well-documented.11 Short-term stress is not always bad, but long-term stress can take a toll on the body in many ways, including putting strain on the immune and cardiovascular systems. Finding your own productive outlets for stress will help you to feel better every day.
Take Chest Pain Seriously
If you are experiencing chest pain that has come on suddenly, experiencing shortness of breath, are worried that you have recently lost consciousness, or are otherwise concerned that there is something serious going on, call emergency services immediately.
Do not wait to see if the pain goes away. If the pain is being caused by a heart attack, then a rapid response will greatly improve the likelihood of a positive outcome. If it is not, then at least you will have peace of mind. Call 911 or your local emergency number if your chest pain:
- Begins suddenly and does not appear to be linked to anything
- Feels like squeezing, tightness, or a crushing sensation under the breastbone
- Spreads to your arm, back, or jaw
- Is accompanied by shortness of breath, confusion, or dizziness
- If you start sweating, turn ashen-colored, or feel sick
- Find it difficult to swallow
- Are suffering from fever or chills
- Are coughing up mucus
Even if you have been diagnosed with GERD or other issues, if your chest pain feels different or you are worried about your health for any other reason, it is better to seek medical attention.
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