While heartburn typically presents as a burning sensation in the chest after eating, a heart attack can manifest as intense chest pressure and may include other symptoms like shortness of breath and dizziness.
The sensations of heartburn and a heart attack can sometimes feel disturbingly similar, leaving many people anxious and uncertain about their health. This article aims to demystify these two conditions, providing clear insights to help distinguish one from the other.
While heartburn, a symptom of acid reflux, is generally not life-threatening, a heart attack requires immediate medical attention. Understanding the differences between heartburn vs. heart attack is crucial for timely and appropriate treatment. Here, we will explore seven key distinctions that can help patients identify their symptoms accurately and seek the right care.
1. Nature of Pain
Heartburn: Typically, heartburn manifests as a burning sensation in the chest, just behind the breastbone. This discomfort often arises after eating and might worsen when lying down or bending over. Heartburn pain is usually localized and does not radiate to other parts of the body.
Heart Attack: In contrast, the pain or discomfort associated with a heart attack is often described as a squeezing, pressure, or fullness in the chest. It’s not limited to the area behind the breastbone and can spread to the shoulders, neck, jaw, or arms. The pain from a heart attack may come and go, but it generally doesn’t fluctuate with body position as heartburn does.
2. Associated Symptoms
Heartburn: Beyond the burning sensation, heartburn may accompany a sour or bitter taste in the mouth, caused by stomach acid reaching the throat. Other symptoms can include chronic cough, hoarseness, or a sensation of a lump in the throat.
Heart Attack: Heart attack symptoms extend beyond chest discomfort. They often include shortness of breath, cold sweats, nausea, lightheadedness, and extreme fatigue. Women, in particular, might experience less typical symptoms such as abdominal discomfort, dizziness, and unexplained fatigue. It’s crucial to note that heart attacks can occur without chest pain, particularly in women.
3. Duration and Timing of Symptoms
Heartburn: The symptoms of heartburn are typically triggered by certain foods or drinks and may last from a few minutes to several hours. Lying down or bending over generally aggravates the heartburn pain.
Heart Attack: The discomfort or pain of a heart attack tends to persist for more than a few minutes. It may lessen and then return, or it could be continuous. Unlike heartburn, heart attack symptoms don’t have a clear connection to food intake or body position.
4. Effect of Medication
Heartburn: Over-the-counter antacids or prescription medications often provide relief for heartburn symptoms. If the burning sensation subsides after taking such medication, it’s more likely to be heartburn.
Heart Attack: Heart attack symptoms typically do not improve with antacids. Medications like nitroglycerin, prescribed for angina (chest pain due to heart disease), might provide temporary relief, but if the symptoms persist, it’s important to seek emergency medical care.
5. Risk Factors
Heartburn: Often related to dietary habits, body weight, certain medications, or lifestyle choices such as smoking and alcohol consumption.
What are the common symptoms of heartburn and heart attack?
Common heartburn symptoms include a burning sensation in the chest, while heart attack symptoms may involve chest pain, shortness of breath, and pain radiating to the arm. Learn to distinguish these signs to react promptly.
Can heartburn lead to a heart attack?
While chronic heartburn doesn't directly cause heart attacks, prolonged acid reflux can damage the esophagus. Severe, persistent symptoms may indicate a more serious condition, so it's crucial to seek medical attention.
Are there lifestyle changes to prevent heartburn and heart attacks?
Yes, adopting a heart-healthy lifestyle helps. Manage stress, maintain a balanced diet, and avoid trigger foods to reduce heartburn risk. Regular exercise and a heart-healthy diet also lower the risk of heart attacks.
How can someone differentiate between indigestion and heartburn?
Indigestion involves discomfort or pain in the upper abdomen, often accompanied by bloating. Heartburn specifically relates to a burning sensation in the chest. Knowing the distinctions helps in accurate self-diagnosis.
When should I seek immediate medical attention for chest pain?
If you experience persistent chest pain with shortness of breath, nausea, or jaw pain, it could be a heart attack. Don't delay—call emergency services immediately for prompt medical intervention.