Conditions That Can Mimic a Heart Attack

Conditions That Can Mimic a Heart Attack | Dr. Ali Ghahary

If you’ve ever suffered from chest pain, the thought of whether or not you’re in the midst of a heart attack has probably crossed your mind at least once. When it comes to who’s at risk of having a heart attack, there are many factors that come into play, such as age, hypertension, tobacco use, obesity, diabetes, high cholesterol, and there being a history of heart attacks in your family. That being said, it is possible for even the healthiest of people to have heart attacks, as you may not even be aware of certain conditions that could increase your risk. For example, there is a certain condition known as metabolic syndrome that doesn’t always come with symptoms. You can read more about metabolic syndrome here. The most common sign that you may be having a heart attack is chest pain – and, even if you think it’s not a heart attack, it’s still important that you call 911 if you are experiencing this or any other symptoms (such as pressure or tightness in the chest, shortness of breath, nausea, sweating, and fatigue.) As always, the most important thing that you can do to ensure you are in good health is to have regular check-ups with your family physician.

It is also important to note that there are many other conditions that can mimic symptoms similar to that of a heart attack, which can include the following:

• Pulmonary embolism
• Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
• Musculoskeletal pain
• Psychological disorders

Below is a more in-depth look at these conditions, their symptoms, and how they are treated.

A pulmonary embolism, for example, is a blood clot that forms in the lungs and can mimic that of a heart attack with symptoms like sudden or sharp chest pain, shortness of breath, rapid heart rate, coughing up blood, anxiety, and sweating. When you develop a blood clot in the lung’s arteries, this ultimately cuts off the flow of blood – and, without immediate treatment, can be fatal. A pulmonary embolism can be diagnosed through blood tests as well as other types of tests, including a CT angiogram or ventilation-perfusion lung scan, and they are usually treated with anticoagulant medication which help to prevent new clots from forming in addition to preventing existing clots from growing. You may be required to take an anticoagulant for a few months, while individuals who are at an increased risk of developing blood clots may be required to take an anticoagulant for the rest of their lives.

Gastroesophageal reflux disease, also more commonly known as its abbreviation, GERD, or acid reflux, is a condition that occurs when the sphincter located at the bottom of the esophagus is weakened or open when it shouldn’t be, causing contents in the stomach to flow up into the esophagus. The most common symptom associated with GERD is heartburn, and it can mimic that of a heart attack as the pain can often be felt behind the breastbone. Other symptoms that are associated with GERD include flatulence, regurgitation of food/liquids, the sensation of having a lump in the throat, and trouble swallowing. In mild cases, you may be able to relieve symptoms of GERD (such as heartburn) with an over-the-counter antacid. In severe cases, your doctor may need to prescribe a medication known as a PPI (proton pump inhibitor.) Making lifestyle changes, such as with your diet and losing weight, can also be helpful in the management of GERD. (Foods such as coffee and chocolate are particularly bad and should be avoided if you have acid reflux.) If you’re unable to find relief through trying the above methods of treatment, you could be a candidate for fundoplication surgery.

Musculoskeletal pain can occur in different areas of the body, including the best, which can be the result of something like a pulled muscle or inflammation in the cartilage that connects the ribs and breastbone. This pain can be so severe that it will often mimic that of a heart attack. Pain that is musculoskeletal is often treated with non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, also known as NSAIDs, such as ibuprofen or naproxen. In some cases, individuals may also find things such as muscle strengthening exercises, physical therapy and massage to be beneficial.

Psychological disorders are not something that you may have initially thought to link to chest pain, but in fact there are many different disorders that can have an impact on your body in a number of ways – including depression, stress, and anxiety. In fact, anxiety is one of the most common causes of chest pain, and it can be so severe that one may actually think they are having a heart attack. To prevent chest pain from occurring, it’s important for you to seek out the help of a medical professional so that you can identify what your triggers are. There are also various types of anti-anxiety medications that can be beneficial in putting you at ease/reducing anxiety, which is something worth speaking to your physician about.