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One of the most common afflictions of middle age is heartburn, a mildly serious condition that more than anything is a nuisance.

Another common affliction of middle age is heart disease, especially heart attacks, life threatening conditions that require immediate medical attention. Though the names are similar, physiologically, the conditions are very different.

Unfortunately, the symptoms are not, and a heart attack is often mistaken for a bad case of indigestion. Heartburn is the condition in which acid from the stomach leaks back into the esophagus for some reason, and does give a sensation of burning. One of the most common causes of heartburn is a hiatus hernia. The esophagus must pass through a sheet of muscle called the diaphragm to get to the stomach.

The area in which the esophagus passes through the diaphragm is called the hiatus. When the muscle around the hiatus weakens, the abdominal portion of the esophagus can protrude upwards through the hiatus into the chest. This condition can affect the efficiency of a valve that maintains a one-way flow into the stomach. This can cause acid to leak back into the esophagus causing heartburn.

A heart attack occurs when one of the blood vessels that supply the heart itself with blood, the coronary arteries, becomes blocked. The heart tissue is deprived of oxygen and, if not treated, can die. Two out of three people that suffer a heart attack can die, but the attack may be fatal if it interferes with the electrical impulses that regulate the heartbeat. There are several complications that can occur because of a heart attack. After the heart attack, a clot may form within one of the chambers of the heart. If the clot becomes detached it can travel and wreak havoc in other parts of the body.

Damage caused by a heart attack can weaken and stretch one of the walls of the heart chambers. The resultant aneurysms can lead to complications like heart failure.

The main general symptom of both heartburn and a heart attack is discomfort in the chest and upper abdominal region. The main difference is that in a heart attack, the pain radiates across the chest and possibly into the left arm and neck. Also, breathing becomes difficult and it may feel like the chest is being pressed on very heavily. A heart attack can come on at any time, but is most likely after strenuous activity. Heartburn almost always occurs after a meal, especially one containing spicy foods.