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Heart Attack

Heart Attack Or Some Other Condition?

Last updated on:
29/03/2012

Contributing Author: Guy Slowik FRCS

It's sometimes hard to tell if chest pain is caused by a heart attack or another condition. For example, pain related to a heart attack is frequently mistaken for indigestion and can even be briefly and partially relieved with belching or antacids. Conversely, people with pain from gastroesophageal reflux ("heartburn") frequently mistake their pain for heart pain. Conditions sometimes confused with a heart attack include:

Other heart conditions, such as

  • Pericarditis (inflammation of outer covering of heart)
  • Myocarditis (inflammation of heart muscle)
  • Disease of cardiac valves (flaps of tissue that control blood flow through heart chambers)
  • Acute aortic dissection, or the splitting of the wall of the aorta

Gastrointestinal conditions (conditions affecting the stomach or intestines)

  • Gastroesophageal reflux, the backward flow of stomach contents into the esophagus producing a burning pain often referred to as "heartburn"
  • Esophageal spasm, or a sudden contraction of muscle in wall of esophagus
  • Duodenal or gastric ulcer - ulcers in the stomach or upper portion of intestine
  • Gastritis, an inflammation of the stomach
  • An inflammation of the gallbladder
  • Gallstones
  • Pancreatitis, which is an inflammation of the pancreas

Musculoskeletal disorders (conditions affecting muscle or skeleton)

  • Fractured rib
  • Costochondritis or an inflammation of one or more segments of rib cartilage

Lung conditions

  • Pneumonia, an inflammation of the lungs
  • Pulmonary embolism, a piece of a blood clot in the pulmonary arteries that usually comes from a detached blood clot formed in leg veins
  • Pneumothorax or the presence of air or gas in space that holds the lungs

Need To Know:

Doctors rely on taking a person's medical history to help distinguish a heart attack from other conditions. Findings on the physical examination and a various diagnostic tests help determine if the pain is caused by underlying heart disease.

It is important for the doctor, not the individual, to decide whether the pain is or is not related to heart disease. Seek immediate medical attention if one of more warning signs of a heart attack occurs for more than several minutes.

 

 
 

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From Andrew Maynard - Chair of the University of Michigan Department of Environmental Health Sciences, with help from David Faulkner - 2013 Master of Public Health graduate.