Your worst fear is true: Chest pain and a burp that you can’t get out can mean there’s something wrong with your heart.
“For men and women, belching and feeling like they have indigestion with chest pain — often called heartburn — can indicate heart disease or be symptoms of GI issues,” says Charles C. Cummings, MD, Interventional Cardiologist, LifeBridge Health Cardiovascular Institute in Baltimore, MD.
“In both cases, it’s important to pay attention, and knowing the difference is not always simple,” says Dr. Cummings.
“Heartburn is called that because it feels like it’s coming from the heart even though it isn’t related to the heart at all,” continues Dr. Cummings.
“Instead it’s caused by acid from the stomach going into the esophagus.” This so-called food pipe is behind the sternum, though not directly.
“Unfortunately those symptoms are very similar to angina, frequently a sign of coronary artery disease.”
Chest Pain, Burping or Trying to Burp: Get Your Heart Checked
Dr. Cummings says, “If someone burps, has indigestion or chest pain after eating, especially spicy food, doctors might be more inclined to think it’s related to the meal (although that’s not always the case).
“However, if individuals have those symptoms and/or jaw, chest or shoulder pain when they are exerting themselves, it’s much more concerning…and could be angina.”
Angina chest pain results when the heart doesn’t get an adequate supply of blood due to blockages in the coronary arteries – blockages that reduce the interior diameter of the vessels so that not enough blood can get through.
“The reason is because with heart disease, there’s a narrowing of one of the coronary arteries.
“If individuals are doing minimal activities, there can still be enough blood so they are not affected.
“However, as they exert themselves, they put more demand on that minimal flow which can manifest itself as typical angina… a squeezing of the chest, radiating to the shoulder, left arm or to the jaw or as atypical with burping, back pain, jaw pain or a ‘toothache.’
“Women and people with diabetes are more likely to have atypical symptoms.”
Burping isn’t funny.
Belching is often depicted with humor in TV shows, so who’d ever think that burping or a feeling that you have to could possibly mean a future heart attack?
The vast majority of burps – and certainly tens of millions of burps occur every day – mean nothing.
But some, when accompanied by chest pain, can indicate a cardiac issue that can lead to a heart attack if not treated.
“If any of these symptoms surface frequently especially while doing physical activity, it’s important to get medical help because they could be warning signs of pressing heart issues — not something that can wait years to address,” says Dr. Cummings.
“To find out if chest pain and other symptoms related to physical activity are angina or heartburn, an exertional EKG (stress test) is usually done.
“Based on patients’ risk factors, medical intervention may be recommended either in the hospital or on an outpatient basis.”
Don’t let the associated humor with burps detract from the potential seriousness of the dual symptoms of chest pain and a feeling that you must burp but it never happens. Heart attacks are way too common.
Dr. Cummings holds several cardiovascular device patents and has been the director of the cardiac catheterization laboratory at the Sinai Hospital since 1998.
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.