Your left shoulder may seem like an unlikely place to develop pain after eating a meal, but if you have a digestive condition called gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD, this may be more common than you think. Left shoulder pain is commonly associated with a heart attack if accompanied by shortness of breath and sweating, but if you develop only shoulder pain after eating, talk with your doctor to receive a medical evaluation.
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GERD is a digestive condition that causes reoccurring heartburn. Heartburn is a burning, painful sensation that develops in the center of the breastbone and may cause pain to radiate into your left shoulder, your neck and behind your shoulder blades. Radiated pain is pain that originates in one part of the body and is felt in another. MayoClinic.com recommends that if you develop heartburn more than twice a week, or your symptoms become bothersome, you should make an appointment with your doctor.
After you chew your food and swallow it, it travels down your esophagus and into your stomach, where harsh stomach acids break down the food. Between your esophagus and the opening of the stomach is a flat muscle, called the sphincter. The sphincter allows food to pass into the stomach and shuts to prevent acid from entering the esophagus. If your sphincter malfunctions, doesn’t close the entire way or opens without reason, acid can cause irritation and damage to the soft tissue in your esophagus, according to the National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse. Pregnancy, being overweight and smoking all increase your chances of developing GERD.
Treatments include lifestyle and dietary changes along with medication. Your doctor may recommend avoiding the consumption of caffeine, alcohol, chocolate, carbonated beverages, tomatoes, citrus fruits, spicy foods, fatty foods, peppermint, full-fat diary products and spearmint. Additionally, if you're a smoker, quit; eat small meals; reduce stress; avoid bending over after eating; don’t lie down two to three hours after eating; and lose weight, if you’re overweight. Common medications that can help reduce symptoms of GERD include proton pump inhibitors, antacids, H2 antagonists and promotility agents.
If you develop blood in your vomit or stool, or you become lightheaded and have trouble breathing, call your doctor right away. A minor heart attack can be mistaken for heartburn or GERD. Other signs of a more serious condition may include severe stomach pain, chest pain, fever and flushing of the skin.