Symptoms of heartburn and heart attack can be similar, making it difficult to know if you’re experiencing a severe episode of acid reflux or something much more dangerous. A heart attack can feel like the burning pain usually associated with heartburn, so it is important to know the differences.
What Is Heartburn?
Heartburn or acid reflux occurs when the muscle at the opening of your stomach doesn’t close properly, allowing stomach acid to flow back into your esophagus. This causes a burning pain in your chest. Although the main symptom of heartburn is chest pain, you may also experience a burning sensation in your throat, an acidic taste in your mouth, regurgitation, difficulty swallowing, bloating and belching.
What Is A Heart Attack?
A heart attack can occur when one of the coronary arteries becomes blocked, resulting in loss of blood supply to the heart muscle. Patients can go into cardiac arrest if blood flow is not restored quickly, which can lead to permanent heart damage or death.
Although heart attack symptoms can range from mild to severe (and in some cases occur with no symptoms), the most common symptoms of heart attack include:
- Chest pain that may feel like crushing, squeezing, pressure, tightness or an ache. It is usually (although not always) located in the center or center-left of the chest. The pain lasts longer than a few minutes or keeps coming back.
- Arm, neck or jaw pain
- Shortness of breath
- Nausea and/or vomiting
- Cold sweats
- Dizziness/feeling faint or weak
- Unusual fatigue
The Differences Between Heartburn And Heart Attack Symptoms
It can be difficult even for doctors treating patients to distinguish between symptoms caused by heartburn and heart attack. The chest pain can be similar. Symptoms of a heart attack can vary between individuals, and they can sometimes even include heartburn or indigestion.
Some ways to tell that it might be heartburn and not a heart attack:
- Pain starts in the abdomen and moves up to the chest.
- The pain is worse after eating, lying down or bending over.
- Pain is relieved by heartburn medication (antacids or acid blockers).
- Pain is accompanied by bloating and/or belching.
Signs that it may be a heart attack:
- Difficulty breathing/shortness of breath
- Other general symptoms, such as cold sweats, fatigue and dizziness
- Pain in other areas, such as arms, neck or jaw
When To Call A Doctor
If you have severe chest pain, chest pain that doesn’t go away or other symptoms that could be a heart attack (even if you’re not sure), call 911. A heart attack is a medical emergency that requires immediate treatment.
Anyone who experiences unexplained chest pain should make an appointment with their doctor. While it might not be caused by a heart attack, it may be a sign of heart disease or other conditions.
Frequent heartburn (three or more times per week) should be investigated, as it can be a sign of more serious conditions. You should also see your doctor if you experience heartburn that is not relieved by over-the-counter medications, nausea and/or vomiting, or if you have difficulty swallowing or unintentional weight loss.
The team at Advanced Cardiovascular Specialists consists of North Louisiana’s leading experts in cardiovascular care. For more information or to schedule an appointment, please call our office at (318) 798-9400.