Heartburn vs. Heart Attack: Know the Differences

Chest pain — it’s something that is always alarming because of the fact that it is in your chest where the heart is. Needless to say, chest pain should not be taken lightly. However, it’s not all the time that having pain in the chest is a sign that you’re suffering from a heart attack. Sometimes it’s just actually heartburn.

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Before we discuss some of the differences between a heartburn and heart attack, it’s important for you to seek medical attention right away if there’s pain or discomfort in your chest, most especially if is accompanied by other symptoms such as shortness of breath, dizziness, perspiration and pain radiating to one arm or both.

Now that’s out of the way, let us tackle how you can differentiate a heartburn and heart attack apart.

If one thing’s for sure, it’s a heartburn and heart attack can both cause pain in the chest. However, there are a few things that make chest pain caused by heartburn and heart-related chest pain different from each other:

  • Needless to say, chest pain due to heartburn feels like your chest is on fire. When you lie down or bend over, you can expect the pain to intensify — lying down or bending over causes food and acids in the stomach to flow back much further into your esophagus.
  • On the other hand, chest pain that is due to a heart attack is oftentimes described as stabbing or crushing. Sometimes it is described as having a tight band around the chest, or an elephant sitting on it. Usually, heart-related chest pain is relieved by rest or when the physical activity stops.

Speaking of physical activity, what you do prior to the chest pain can reveal whether what you are having is a case of heartburn or heart attack. If you:

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  • Feel chest pain after having a heavy meal or consuming foods that are greasy and spicy, there’s a huge possibility that it’s heartburn. To confirm, take an OTC antacid. If the pain in the chest subsides, it’s a bout of heartburn.
  • Experience chest pain after a physical activity, it’s possible that it is has something to do with your heart. Physical activity, especially an intense one, causes the heart muscles to require more oxygen, something that it cannot get. Taking a rest usually makes the chest pain go away.

However, do take note that chest pain that’s heartburn-induced may also strike during physical activity because of the impact it has on the stomach and its contents, like food and acids.

You may also be able to determine whether it’s a heartburn or heart attack by observing where exactly in the chest the pain is felt and whether it radiates to other areas of the body. Take a look at this:

  • Heartburn-related chest pain occurs behind the breastbone. Usually, the burning sensation extends to the neck and sometimes the jaw. In rare instances, the pain may also be felt in the shoulders and arms. Experts add that you can point exactly where the chest pain seems to be coming from.
  • Chest pain that is coming from the heart is felt in the center of the chest, spreading outwards. There are instances wherein the pain is situated on only one side of the chest. Usually, someone who is experiencing it may not be able to tell where exactly in the chest it’s coming from. The pain felt may also radiate to the shoulders and one arm or both.

Aside from the pain in the chest, some other symptoms may be used to determine whether the problem is caused by a bout of heart burn or heart attack. For instance:

  • Heartburn does not usually come with dizziness, nausea and sweating, although it may happen. You may feel like gas or food is coming back to the mouth. Sometimes there is an acidic or metallic taste in the mouth, too.
  • Chest pain due to a heart attack usually comes with weakness, dizziness, nausea, vomiting and cold sweat. Shortness of breath is also a very common symptom. Similarly, there is a feeling of impending doom.

As always, it’s much better to err on the safe side. When you are having pain in the chest and you are not sure if it’s a heartburn or heart attack, immediately seek medical assistance.

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