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Is Your Chest Pain a Heartburn or a Heart Attack?

Published on Sep 26, 2017 and last reviewed on Nov 23, 2022   -  5 min read

Abstract

Heartburn and heart attack are different conditions often mistaken to be the same. This article will explain the differences between heartburn and heart attack in detail.

Is Your Chest Pain a Heartburn or a Heart Attack?

Introduction

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 a heart attack would be chewing and swallowing a full-strength Aspirin (325 mg) unless you are allergic to it.

What Is a Heartburn?

Heartburn is not a disease by itself. Instead, it is a burning sensation felt in the chest due to the regurgitation of stomach acid contents back into the food pipe (also known as the esophagus). It usually begins behind the breastbone and can last for a few minutes to hours. The effects of heartburn can be felt in the throat also.

What Are the Signs and Symptoms of a Heartburn?

  • 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 salty, sour, or bitter taste in your mouth.

  • Pain in the stomach area, especially in the upper abdomen.

  • Difficulty in swallowing.

  • A persistent cough.

Heartburn and other acid reflux symptoms can get triggered by hot, sour, and spicy foods, beverages like coffee, consumption of alcohol, and smoking, and often respond to various over-the-counter (OTC) antacids available on the market. It is recommended to consult a medical gastroenterologist if your acid reflux symptoms are severe and occur multiple times a week.

Antacids, proton pump inhibitors, and acid blockers are the commonly used drugs to lessen the acid production in the stomach and prevent heartburn. Patients are advised not to eat anything two hours before going to bed. In addition, it is also essential to quit smoking and avoid foods that influence acid reflux.

If heartburn is not addressed then and there, it can cause complications like laryngitis, esophageal cancer, esophagus ulcers, persistent cough, etc.

What Is a Heart Attack?

It is also known as myocardial infarction. 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. In short, a heart attack occurs when one of the heart's muscles does not get enough blood supply. It is experienced as discomfort, squeezing, or tightness of the chest.

What Are the Warning Signs of a Heart Attack?

  • Chest pain - A feeling of fullness, squeeze, or abnormal pressure can be experienced that comes and goes.

  • 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 heartburn. It can cause a heart attack too, especially in people who already have coronary artery disease. Also, studies have shown that about half of the people who seek medical help for 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 we must be able to differentiate between both.

People who suffered a heart attack can recover with cardiac rehabilitation (important for the ones who underwent surgery), physical activities like walking for a minimum of 30 minutes on a daily basis, and lifestyle changes like quitting smoking, following a healthy diet pattern, controlling stress in an effective way, and taking the prescribed medicines on time.

How to Find the Difference Between Heartburn and Heart Attack?

HBHA

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. Because ignoring or mistaking heart attack, symptoms can result in some undesirable conditions and situations. A few of the differences between heartburn and heart attack are,

  • Heartburn produces a sharp, stinging pain, while heart attack causes heaviness and an uncomfortable pressure 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.

  • A heart attack involves palpitations, abnormal heartbeat, and shortness of breath. In heartburn, these symptoms are absent.

  • Heartburn is accompanied by an altered taste, while this is not seen in the case of a heart attack.

  • Heartburn pain is relieved with an antacid, while in heart attack, pain persists.

  • Heartburn is accompanied by bloating, which is not a sign of a heart attack.

Who Is at High Risk of Developing a Heart Attack?

You can suspect a heart attack associated with 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).

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

Conclusion:

Confusing between the signs of heartburn and heart attack is very common. But adverse effects associated with it are extremely undesirable. Lack of awareness and education is the leading cause. Therefore, it is important to know the difference between these two, and one should act accordingly.

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Last reviewed at:
23 Nov 2022  -  5 min read

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