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:

Heart Attack
Symptoms can include bloating, burning chest, burning throat, acidic/bitter taste in mouth, and pain upon bending over
Symptoms can include cold sweat, dizziness, shortness of breath, nausea and vomiting
Condition often occurs after eating a meal
Condition can occur at any time
Pain often begins at breastbone and travels up to throat
Pain can radiate to shoulders, neck or arms
Symptoms usually alleviated with antacids or belching
Symptoms do not respond to antacids
Symptoms change gradually
Symptoms persist and/or increase in severity over minutes
Pain does not often cause weakness
Pain is often accompanied by unusual weakness and fatigue
Condition is caused by a weakness in the lower esophageal sphincter (LES)
Condition is caused by blockage of a coronary artery
Condition is usually not a medical emergency
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.