Ladies is it a Heart Attack or Acid Reflux?

Toward the very end of October 2010, I found myself in the very strange position of contemplating if my symptoms were warning signs of a heart attack or just acid reflux. Not to imply that acid reflux is not terribly uncomfortable and painful, but given a choice I would naturally choose to have an acid reflux problem over a heart attack.

As my husband and I were to discover, we did "the right thing" by making a trip to the emergency room. I must have changed my mind about the wisdom of getting the tightness in my chest checked out at least 100 times during the course of that day. It seemed all so melodramatic in my eyes. Why should I think I am having a heart attack all of a sudden, I asked myself. Turns out melodrama or not, better to be safe than . . . dead.

A picture of the type of nitroglycerin patch I received in the emergency room
A picture of the type of nitroglycerin patch I received in the emergency room | Source

How it all Began

I woke up at my usual time that fine Sunday morning. I went down for my morning coffee and realized I was more tired than was usual even with my chronic fatigue due to MS. I remember telling myself it was not going to be a high energy day and hoping that taking my Prozac would help me eventually salvage at least part of the day.

Shortly after I swallowed my morning pills I felt the acid reflux begin to bother me. At first it was mild discomfort but within a couple of hours I experienced the most discomfort I had ever felt prior to that morning. I tried sitting up, putting something else on my stomach that would soak up the burning acid in my throat, all to no avail. It was still getting worse.

Then for no apparent reason my chest started feeling increasingly tighter, so much so that I began massaging it thinking maybe I was having a muscle spasm related to my MS. Finally I felt the need to complain about my discomfort to my husband. It took a few minutes before I confessed to him I was 'wondering' if this could be a heart related problem. Needless to say that got his attention and although I was totally unaware, he had decided then and there that we would be going to the emergency room. He didn't let on his concerns though; he just calmly allowed me to reason on my choices and reminded me that it would be easy enough to run a check on my heart so that we would know for sure.

By this time I didn't need much pushing because between the chest tightening and the acid reflux I also began feeling a pain in my left shoulder blade and my left arm went numb. Now anyone living with MS knows that these problems could easily be associated with MS. I have had all of those problems myself many times without becoming alarmed by them. The difference this time is that it all happened within a 2-3 hour time frame and the symptoms were increasing not decreasing.

Finally I put myself together as best I could and we headed for the emergency room. It wasn't very crowded so I'd barely settled in my chair before I was called back by the nurse. Shortly thereafter I was taken to an exam area and we found out my blood pressure was high. At this point I assumed they would hook me up to a machine, check my ticker and release me once it showed my heart wasn't in distress. Instead I was given 4 chewable baby aspirins and a nitroglycerin patch was applied. That's when I started getting nervous, I must confess.

I don't truly understand how the nitro patch works, put it did wonders to ease the tightness in my chest. My nurse explained it actually opens up the veins and arteries so that blood flows much easier. Looking back it was around the time the patch started working that I started coming to the conclusion it was time for me to leave! Too bad I couldn't find anyone to agree with me.

Family History and Dangerous Medical Conditions

In retrospect it was nice to travel to a hospital and find out having Multiple Sclerosis was the least of my problems. I was asked about my medical history and the medical history of my family. It all sounded so bad to me. I decided to give the answers but with the proper slant. For example I told the nurse I had diabetes, high cholesterol, and high blood pressure, BUT all the conditions were being controlled by medication so all my blood results showed me in the normal range.  Yes, my mother passed away from a heart condition, but she also had other health problems. Finally the nurse informed me that she was aware of what I was doing and that downplaying my condition would not enable me to be released any sooner. If nothing else the exchange provided us all with a good laugh.

The doctor came to see me and told me that although it might be acid reflux he would feel better doing a complete work up on me since I had never had any previous cardiac exams. He assured me it would only take 48 hours and then we would all know for sure.

With great reluctance I agree to have my heart tested. 

Stress Test

I have never been touched so much in my life thus far. Because it was my heart that was being examined I got more up-close and personal than I ever dreamed possible with the nurses and doctors.

Since MS has left me without much energy, I was given a chemically induced stress test. I was very worried about the effect it would have on me, but turns out I had no reason to worry since I felt the same type of exertion I have felt going up and down our two flights of steps when I do laundry.

My Heart is Good to Go

After all was said and done my heart was given a clean bill of health. It is working good, pumping great and has felt no effects from my diabetes, high blood pressure or high cholesterol.

I recently visited my GP and he agreed I was in good shape. But he and my husband discussed the fact that heart attacks in men and heart attacks in women were a lot trickier to spot. My doctor told us that some women just experience jaw pain. He did tell us that most heart attacks involve actual pain not just tightness of the chest. Still, he wanted us to be safe rather than sorry, especially given my family history and current medical conditions.

So, ladies, even if you think you are exaggerating your symptoms or making too much of a big deal over something that is probably nothing, go to the emergency room anyway. Put up with the couple of days of sleepless nights and bad hospital food and get a clean bill of health so that you don't run the chance of becoming another sudden heart attack statistic.

I'm glad I did it and would do it again if need be, which if you know me, you know that is saying a lot! Of course I will still be kicking and screaming the entire time hating every second I am there, but again better to be safe than dead.

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Comments 13 comments

Jen's Solitude profile image

Jen's Solitude 4 years ago from Delaware Author

Thanks for sharing this information with me. I cannot say whether the test was done or not as I was really only concerned with getting out of there! (smile) I know there were a series of tests performed maybe that was one of them.


conradofontanilla profile image

conradofontanilla 4 years ago from Philippines

I am looking for one test that should have been done onto you in the hospital. That is the MB fraction creatine kinase test which, in combination with 2Decho, can confirm (by 100%) an incidence of heart attack in the past, at least 18 hours (Clayman, C.C. editor. Your Heart. 1989:63). You stayed in the hospital for 48 hours so this test was applicable. This is not to insist that you must have had a heart attack given the symptoms you mentioned. Stress test, ECG, 2Decho alone, X-ray, and PET (positron electron tomography) cannot give results similar to that of the kinase test. Anyway, symptoms are subjective in that they are given by the patient and sometimes observed by others, including doctors. But tests can help a lot to catch indicators which are objective. Experienced doctors have 80% to come up with a reliable diagnosis even in the absence of instruments. Rejoice.


PatriciaTL profile image

PatriciaTL 5 years ago from Lehigh Valley

Excellent hub, Jen. I had a similar experience a few years ago, and I definitely would not hesitate to get checked out if the same thing happened again. Thanks for sharing this!


Jen's Solitude profile image

Jen's Solitude 5 years ago from Delaware Author

Thanks MtShastaWriter, I am relieved to know my ticker is in good shape. Heart problems run a muck in my family.


MtShastaWriter profile image

MtShastaWriter 5 years ago from Mt. Shasta Valley, CA

This is a really interesting and well written hub. I'm glad to hear it was just a scare! Best of luck with your health, I know that is a real battle.


Jen's Solitude profile image

Jen's Solitude 5 years ago from Delaware Author

TheListLady and KoffeeKlatch Gals, thank you all so very much for the kind comments and the rating. :)


KoffeeKlatch Gals profile image

KoffeeKlatch Gals 5 years ago from Sunny Florida

Jen, it is sometimes extremely difficult to tell the difference between a heart attck and acid reflux. You did the right thing. I love your story, the way you took us all the way from beginning to end. Great writing. Voted up and awesome.


TheListLady profile image

TheListLady 5 years ago from New York City

Thanks for this very important reminder that we should not second guess our health - it's all we have. Better to exercise caution.

Excellent and rated up!


Jen's Solitude profile image

Jen's Solitude 5 years ago from Delaware Author

Good morning everyone! Thanks so much for taking the time to leave a comment. cathylynn99 thanks for adding to the symptom list, my doctor didn't mention the shortness of breath. I can't imagine what it is like to feel like an elephant is sitting on my chest but I know it would terrify me.


cathylynn99 profile image

cathylynn99 5 years ago from northeastern US

heart attack symptom may be more a pressure (elephant sitting on your chest)or discomfort than a pain. shortness of breath may be the only symptom, so your chest tightening was indeed worrisome. also, profuse sweating may be and often is the only symptom.


BkCreative profile image

BkCreative 5 years ago from Brooklyn, New York City

Smart to just get up and go to the ER. Glad you are well. I think women too often feel they just don't have time to...well, take care of themselves. Our good health should never be an option...but a right.

Thanks for sharing this personal experience - it is an excellent reminder to be safe...and not sorry!

Rated up!


nclark140 profile image

nclark140 5 years ago from Deep Dirty South

Great read. You had all the essential elements: thrill, suspense, humor, but best of all we ALL learned a lesson. By the way I have made that dreaded trip to the ER thinking I was having heart attack or better yet I dreamed up a tumored clashing up my esophagus! Well, they check me out gave me a tylenol and said "Go back to work."

I had clocked out.


chinemeremz profile image

chinemeremz 5 years ago

Hi Jen its really nice you've been checked and certified with a clean bill of health, especially at a wonderful and beautiful time as this.

I salute you for your courage and strength.

This is wishing you a stress free, healthy and happy Christmas.

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