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Heartburn vs. Heart Problems

Category: Patient Stories
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If you're like many Americans, you might occasionally overindulge on high-fat foods, especially during the holidays, leaving you with indigestion, abdominal pain or heartburn. But popping a handful of antacids may not address what's really going on. According to Dr. Waldo AvelloSt. Luke's Gastroenterology Associates, the symptoms of indigestion can be dangerously similar to those of angina-which means that your chest pain could actually be a sign of coronary heart disease. "First, we consider the possibility of heart disease, and not until a cardiologist rules out cardiac problems will we look for gastrointestinal causes," says Dr. Avello.

To determine the cause, Dr. Avello and his team explore the relationship between the symptoms and meal times or types of foods. For example, if fatty foods trigger discomfort an hour after eating, an ultrasound may be used to examine the gallbladder. If symptoms indicate an ulcer, an upper gastrointestinal (GI) endoscopy may be performed to view the stomach and the duodenum (the first part of the small intestine).

An upper GI endoscopy is also used to monitor patients with a history of heartburn or chronic acid reflux who are at greater risk for esophageal cancer. "Often, reflux responds well to medication," says Dr. Avello. "But in some cases, laparoscopic surgery may be the best solution." Severe abdominal pain can also be caused by irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), which often responds well to a combination of regular exercise and dietary changes.

If you are experiencing severe indigestion and reflux, perhaps the best rule of thumb is to trust your gut-and your symptoms-to a specialist who can diagnose and treat your condition, and help prevent more serious health complications.

For more information, call St. Luke's Gastroenterology Associates at 218.249.7940.