Shortness of breath, chest tightness, arm or shoulder pain… People know to watch out for these classic symptoms of a heart attack. But other signs of heart problems can manifest in surprising ways, particularly in the form of stomach problems. The gut relates to so many aspects of one’s health, it makes sense that it is also connected to the heart. “The gut microbiome is one of the largest and most important microbiomes in the body,” he explains. Mahmoud Kara |MD, the creator of KaraMD.com and a specialist in internal medicine. “It contains millions of neurons that interact with other parts of the body beyond the digestive tract.”
“Think about it,” adds Kara. “When we’re developing in the womb, everything is connected by one long tube. As we develop, that tube can expand into a more complex system, but the underlying connection still remains. That’s why the gut microbiome is often linked to various areas of health, such as immunity, cognitive health, heart health, skin appearance, digestion, energy and more.” Read on to find out what her stomach might be trying to tell you about her heart.
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Most of us are familiar with heartburn, a burning sensation in the chest or stomach that is sometimes accompanied by acid reflux. Many things can cause heartburn, including eating fatty or spicy foods, sleeping in certain positions, and snacking late at night, which happens when digestive acid reaches the esophagus. But a similar feeling can occur when a person experience heart problems.
Insufficient blood flow to the heart can lead to chest pain similar to the discomfort of indigestion, reports Harvard Health. In fact, “of the more than eight million emergency room visits for chest pain each year, severe heartburn accounts for more than half of the cases in which true heart problems are ruled out.”
So how can you tell the difference between heartburn and heart problems? The American Heart Association explains that chest pain from a heart attack “lasts more than a few minutes, or… goes away and comes back.” Also, “it can feel like uncomfortable pressure, tightness, fullness, or pain.” Kara advises always seeking medical attention if she has any concerning symptoms.
It may seem like bloating in the stomach is more likely to occur after excessive eating and drinking, but it can actually be a symptom of heart failure. Congestive heart failure (CHF) can cause a pool of blood in the chest, which then leaks into the stomach. The result of this fluid buildup can be a swollen abdomen.
When stomach swelling occurs along with other symptoms (such as wheezing, shortness of breath, leg swelling, and/or irregular heartbeat), it could be a sign of heart failure. According to the Mount Sinai Health System, you should seek help from a doctor if swelling occurs. with other warning signs and gets progressively worse. A sensitive stomach, fever, unusual bowel movements, or an inability to drink or eat are indicators that you may need professional help.
A heart-healthy diet can help prevent stomach inflammation caused by both digestive problems and heart problems. “Certain foods can help your heart in different ways,” says Kara, who also recommends staying hydrated. “Drink plenty of water. Maintaining a high water intake is part of a heart-healthy protocol.”
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Is it a heart problem, food poisoning, or a stomach virus? Sometimes the symptoms can seem indistinguishable. Nausea and vomiting may occur during a heart attack due to both a decrease in cardiac function and the release of metabolites due to inadequate blood supply. “Symptoms of a possible heart problem may include, but are not limited to, chest discomfort, nausea, heartburn/indigestion, stomach pain, [and] dizziness,” Kara explains. “On the other hand, the symptoms of a gastrointestinal virus like the stomach flu or food-related illnesses like food poisoning can be similar, as these issues can lead to nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and heartburn”.
Some symptoms can help you tell the difference. “Heart-related problems, as opposed to symptoms of an insect or food-related illness, can include numbness or chest pain that may spread to the arms, legs, or neck, jaw, or neck area. throat,” says Kara. “Ultimately, you should always see your doctor or seek medical attention if you have any concerning symptoms.”
Given the connection between the gut and the heart, a healthy diet, along with a healthy lifestyle, is an important component of heart disease prevention. Learning about your ideal calorie count and how you can get regular physical activity is key. “To improve your heart health, education is critical,” says Kara. “Learn what foods to eat, how to exercise, and how to manage stress.”
The American Heart Association recommends at least 75 minutes of vigorous physical activity, 150 minutes of moderate physical activity, or an equal combination of both each week: “regular physical activity can help you maintain your weight, avoid weight loss, and achieve cardiovascular and physical fitness.”
Whole grains, avocado, fish and fish oil, beans and green leafy vegetables are must-haves for a healthy heart, according to Kara, along with drinking enough water. “Water is one of the building blocks that keeps our body and all of its systems running at their best, so drinking enough throughout the day is essential for health,” she says.
Kara also recommends avoiding processed and high-sugar foods, refined carbohydrates, excess alcohol and sodium, and foods with additives and toxins. “These foods can cause numerous health problems and can negatively impact your heart health,” she says. And finally, stay away from tobacco products—which “can permanently damage the heart and blood vessels,” warns the US Food and Drug Administration. “This can lead to cardiovascular disease.”
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