Heartburn or Heart Attack? How to tell the difference

“Am I having a heart attack or just really bad heartburn?”

You’re not the first person to ask this question, and you won’t be the last. Chest pain can be alarming, and when the pain grips you, you just want it to stop.

Symptoms of heartburn and heart attack can mimic each other because the pain comes from a similar location. The esophagus and heart are in close proximity, so it is understandable that you might not be certain about what is causing your pain.

Heartburn Versus Heart Attack:

Heartburn

  • Symptoms can include bloating, burning chest, burning throat, acidic/bitter taste in mouth, and pain upon bending over
  • Condition often occurs after eating a meal
  • Pain often begins at breastbone and travels up to throat
  • Symptoms usually alleviated with antacids or belching
  • Symptoms change gradually
  • Pain does not often cause weakness
  • Condition is caused by a weakness in the lower esophageal sphincter (LES)
  • Condition is usually not a medical emergency

Heart Attack

  • Symptoms can include cold sweat, dizziness, shortness of breath, nausea and vomiting
  • Condition can occur at any time
  • Pain can radiate to shoulders, neck or arms
  • Symptoms do not respond to antacids
  • Symptoms persist and/or increase in severity over minutes
  • Pain is often accompanied by unusual weakness and fatigue
  • Condition is caused by blockage of a coronary artery
  • Condition is always a medical emergency and can be life-threatening

Although this list may help you to distinguish heartburn symptoms from indications of a heart attack, if you are in doubt, call 911. If you are experiencing a heart attack, you need to be transported to an emergency department immediately for medical treatment (source: Medicine).

Make an appointment with a gastroenterologist if you are experiencing frequent chest pain. Although chronic heartburn is not life-threatening, you may be suffering from gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) which can cause long-term damage if not properly managed.

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