Is it possible to tell the difference between IBS chest pain and that caused by a heart problem?

Having chest pain, especially in the middle of the night, is scary as heck.  It makes a lot of people wonder if they’re having a heart attack.

“IBS is a disorder that can affect the entire gastrointestinal tract, including the esophagus,” says Michael Blume, MD, a gastroenterologist at MedStar Good Samaritan Hospital, Baltimore.

“If there is spasm or abnormal function in the esophagus, one can complain of chest pain, trouble swallowing, belching, or other symptoms.”

The esophagus is behind the sternum (breastbone), so if your IBS involves esophageal spasms…you will feel discomfort or pain sub-sternally.

However, this is the same location that cardiac-related pain can manifest. An esophageal spasm can be painful and sudden.

You can’t assume that your chest pain is from IBS or not, or a cardiac problem or not, until you undergo thorough medical testing.

“Keep in mind that it is very important to exclude other causes of chest pain, including most notably, cardiac causes, prior to attributing a symptom to IBS,” says Dr. Blume.

“Sometime one can make that determination clinically, but often it may require diagnostic testing to make sure that there is nothing more serious causing this symptom.”

IBS Chest Pain vs. Cardiac Chest Pain

Is it possible for a person to experience episodes of chest pain that are sometimes from IBS and…sometimes from a cardiac problem like angina? Yes! Why not?

There’s no reason why someone can’t just by chance happen to suffer from both a gastroenterological condition and a cardiac condition.

So even if your troubling chest pain has been determined to be IBS, it would be a very smart move to undergo a thorough exam by a cardiologist — just to be as sure as possible.

In practice for 25+ years, Dr. Blume treats over 65 conditions including abdominal pain, appetite loss, blood in stool, celiac disease, colon cancer, esophageal and liver disease, gas and IBS.
Lorra Garrick has been covering medical, fitness and cybersecurity topics for many years, having written thousands of articles for print magazines and websites, including as a ghostwriter. She’s also a former ACE-certified personal trainer. 


Top image: Shutterstock/Monster e