Heart & Circulatory Health

Is Your Chest Pain a Heartburn or a Heart Attack?

Written by Dr. Vasantha K S and medically reviewed by iCliniq medical review team.

Image: Is Your Chest Pain a Heartburn or a Heart Attack?


While heart attack and heartburn are two very different conditions, it is quite possible to confuse one with the other. A heart attack is often accompanied by chest pain, shortness of breath, weakness, paleness, and sweating. So, if you have these symptoms, and they do not subside with rest or the use of regular antacids, it is recommended that you call for medical assistance first before opting for first-aid. The first-aid for heart attack would be to chew and swallow a full-strength Aspirin (325 mg) unless you are allergic to it.

What Is a Heartburn?

Heartburn is not a disease by itself. It is a burning sensation felt in the chest due to the regurgitation of stomach acid contents back into the food pipe. It usually begins behind the breastbone and can last for a few minutes to hours.

The Symptoms of Heartburn Include:

  • A burning chest pain that starts after a meal and increases on lying down or bending over.
  • A feeling of food coming back up your throat.
  • A sour or bitter taste in your mouth.
  • Pain in the stomach area, especially upper abdomen.
  • Difficulty in swallowing.
  • A persistent cough.

Heartburn and other acid reflux symptoms can get triggered by hot, sour and spicy foods and beverages and often respond to various over-the-counter antacids available in the market. It is recommended to consult a medical gastroenterologist if your acid reflux symptoms are severe and occur multiple times a week.

What Is a Heart Attack?

A heart attack is a medical emergency. It happens when there is a complete blockage of an artery that supplies oxygen to a section of heart muscles. It is experienced as a discomfort, squeezing or tightness of chest.

The Warning Signs of a Heart Attack Are:

  • Chest pain.
  • Radiating pain in the arms, jaw, neck or upper back.
  • Shortness of breath.
  • Extreme fatigue.
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness.
  • Nausea or vomiting.
  • Fainting.

Eating a very heavy meal may not just trigger a heartburn, it can cause a heart attack too, especially in people who already have a coronary artery disease. Also, studies have shown that about half of the people who seek medical help for a noncardiac chest pain end up being diagnosed with gastroesophageal reflux disease. While half of the people who did have a heart attack had no or very minimal symptoms and that is the reason it is crucial that we should be able to differentiate between both.

So, How Do We Tell the Difference Between the Two?

Since both the conditions present with chest pain as the primary concern, it is tough to conclude the cause without confirmatory tests. But, understanding the distinguishing points is the key.

  • Heartburn produces a sharp, stinging pain, while heart attack causes a heaviness as if someone is sitting on your chest.
  • Heartburn usually worsens on lying down and resting, while heart attack worsens with exercise and stress.
  • While chest pain due to a heart attack can radiate to the arms, jaw, and back, the one due to heartburn does not spread to other parts of your body.
  • Heartburn typically lasts for several hours while heart attack symptoms last for 15 to 20 minutes.
  • In a heart attack, there are palpitations, abnormal heartbeat and shortness of breath; while in heartburn these symptoms are absent.
  • Heartburn is accompanied by an altered taste, bloating and belching; while these are not seen in case of a heart attack.
  • Heartburn pain is relieved with antacid; while heart attack pain persists.

High-Risk Categories of Heart Attack:

You can suspect a heart attack associated chest pain if you have any of the following risk factors.

  • Pre-existing heart condition.
  • High blood pressure.
  • Stress.
  • An inactive lifestyle.
  • Diabetes.
  • Smoking.
  • Regular alcohol consumption.
  • High cholesterol levels.
  • A family history of heart disease.
  • Substance abuse.
  • Age factor (over 45 in men and over 55 in women).

As a final note, if you are still confused and are unsure about what is causing your chest pain, it is always safer to get yourself examined by a physician to avoid unnecessary panic.

For more information consult a cardiologist online --> https://icliniq.com./ask-a-doctor-online/cardiologist

Last reviewed at: 07.Sep.2018


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