Chest pain can be due to infection, disease, anxiety or just be a symptom of a simple abdominal issue like gas, especially if the discomfort is in the upper left chest area. Since more than a million people have heart attacks annually, and almost half of these are fatal, evaluate any chest pain carefully, according to the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute. Gas, while not as serious, is uncomfortable. Most people generate up to two quarts of gas daily and pass it, either by voluntary or involuntary burping, belching or flatulence, more than 10 times a day.
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Assess your gastrointestinal symptoms as well as note where the discomfort is located, and whether it is a new pain or a recurring one over time. Gas pains can cause sharp, sometimes very intense, abdominal pains. You also may feel bloated and be burping or experiencing flatulence.
Write down what you have eaten recently and educate yourself about foods that tend to cause gas. If you are lactose intolerant and have eaten a dairy-filled meal, you may have significant abdominal discomfort within 30 minutes and as long as two hours after eating. Carbonated drinks, pasta, potatoes, corn, beans, cabbage, broccoli and apples all can create gas as your body digests them.
Determine if you are having other physical symptoms as well as noting their duration. Shortness of breath, sweating and arm or jaw pain are not typically associated with gas. A fever with vomiting can indicate more general stomach upset or a virus.
Review your family history for cardiac problems. If you or your immediate relatives do have known heart disease, be sure others in your life know. Many deaths from heart failure happen within the first 60 minutes of symptoms.
Evaluate your lifestyle for heart problems. Your chances of a heart attack increase if you are overweight, inactive, diabetic, deal with have high cholesterol or high blood pressure or if you smoke. General risk of a heart attack also increases with age--after 45 for men and after 55 for women.
Know the physical symptoms of a heart attack. Squeezing, tightening or pressure in the middle of the chest that continues for several minutes and may radiate into the arms, particularly the left arm, shoulder or jaw may indicate a heart attack. Also call for emergency help if you are suddenly dizzy, short of breath, break into a cold sweat or feel nauseated.
Tips and warnings
- While gas problems are not life threatening, if frequent discomfort caused by gas prevents you from carrying out regular activities, you should see your doctor.
- Heart attacks are seldom as dramatic as the movies portray. An attack often starts slowly as mild chest pain or discomfort. If you are unsure, call for help, because fast intervention can save your life.
- Heart disease is the top cause of death in the United States.
- In addition to chest pressure, women more often experience the other symptoms associated with a heart attack, including shortness of breath, nausea and back or jaw pain.
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