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Heartburn or Heart Attack?

GERD sufferers admitted to hospital emergency departments with heart attack symptoms account for 60 percent of all patients with noncardiac chest pain

For Immediate Release

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MILWAUKEE, WI (November 19, 2001) - More than five million people with chest pain are admitted to hospital emergency departments each year. It is estimated that over half of these patients suffer from what is known as noncardiac chest pain (NCCP). Many of these patients, up to 60 percent, will ultimately be diagnosed with GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease) as the cause of this NCCP.

"We often find people in the emergency department frightened that they are having a heart attack when they are actually experiencing severe heartburn," said Robert W. Schafermeyer, M.D., president of the American College of Emergency Physicians. "It is right for anyone with severe abdominal or chest pain to seek immediate, emergency medical treatment. However, there is much fear and anxiety related to severe chest pain that could be prevented if a person works with their doctor to prevent GERD emergencies."

The International Foundation for Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders (IFFGD) today announced the launch of the Third Annual GERD Awareness Week, November 18-24, 2001. GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease) is a painful acid related gastrointestinal disorder that affects nearly 21 million Americans.

IFFGD has partnered with the American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP) to educate Americans about the severity of untreated GERD. ACEP has chosen to support this campaign to educate the public about the symptoms of GERD and to encourage people to speak to their physicians at the first sign of symptoms, which in some cases can help avoid a GERD-related visit to the emergency department.

"GERD is the most common abnormality associated with unexplained chest pain," said Philip O. Katz, M.D., Kimbel Professor and Chairman, Department of Medicine at the Graduate Hospital in Philadelphia. "The important thing is for sufferers to speak to their physicians at the onset of symptoms."

GERD is caused when harsh stomach acid backs up into the esophagus or food tube. Symptoms of GERD may include frequent and persistent heartburn that occurs two or more days a week, coughing, difficulty swallowing, and a sour or acidic aftertaste in the mouth. In some cases, heartburn may present heart attack-like symptoms such as chest pain being induced during exercise and exertional chest pain that mimics angina.

If GERD is left untreated, it may lead to more serious conditions such as erosion of the esophagus or in some cases, Barrett's esophagus, a pre-cancerous condition within the lining of the esophagus. GERD and cardiac disease most often affect people over the age of 40.

"Heartburn associated with GERD can severely impact a person's quality of life," said Nancy Norton, President of the IFFGD. "GERD Awareness Week is intended to help inform and assist those suffering from the condition so they may be able to have productive discussions with their physicians and seek treatment options that will improve their health."

Those experiencing symptoms of GERD are encouraged to call the IFFGD hotline at 1-888-964-2001 or log onto its website at www.aboutgerd.org for free information, support, and materials about GERD. Active the entire year from 9:30 AM to 6:00 PM EST Monday - Friday, the staff is available to answer questions, offer information on medical support options, and provide membership literature and educational materials.

Additionally, IFFGD can supply a free seven-day diary, which can help undiagnosed sufferers keep track of heartburn frequency and eating habits. By recording daily eating habits and episodes of heartburn, patients can be more proactive in helping their physician determine appropriate treatment options.

"The seven-day diary can serve as a vital tool when discussing symptoms with a physician," commented Nancy Norton. "It is important to recognize symptoms at the onset - especially during the holidays when people attribute heartburn to the foods they are eating. While some foods may trigger symptoms, they are not the cause of GERD."

"In some instances, identifying symptoms of GERD at the onset can mean the difference between relief and a visit to the emergency department," said Norton.

ACEP is a national emergency medicine medical specialty society with more than 22,000 members. ACEP is committed to improving the quality of emergency care through continuing education, research, and public education. For more health information visit ACEP's Web site at www.acep.org.

The IFFGD is a nonprofit education and research organization whose mission it is to inform, assist and support people affected by gastrointestinal disorders. With an international group of experts from multiple disciplines who serve on the organization's medical advisory board, the IFFGD is a resource for anyone seeking increased knowledge about gastrointestinal disorders for both adults and children. For more information on IFFGD visit their website at www.iffgd.org.

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Last modified on February 29, 2008 at 10:39:59 AM