Heartburn is a burning feeling in the chest caused by stomach acid travelling up towards the throat (acid reflux). This feeling will disappear on its own, but when severe heartburn happens it can be worrying. The symptoms feel just like what you’d expect a heart attack to feel like and so it’s easy to get the two conditions confused. However, a heart attack can be fatal and heartburn can’t so it’s very important to be able to tell the difference. Express.co.uk reveals the key symptoms of heartburn and heart attack – differences and similarities, according to the Mayo Clinic.
It’s perfectly normal to experience heartburn every now and then, particularly after eating a big meal.
Rationalising that burning pain in your chest can be tricky though since it feels the same as angina (reduced blood flow to the heart) or an actual heart attack.
The Mayo Clinic explains: “Heartburn, angina and heart attack may feel very much alike.
“Even experienced doctors can’t always tell the difference between looking at your medical history and a physical exam.”
So, what are the differences between heartburn and heart attack?
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The typical features of heartburn include:
- Starts as a burning sensation in the upper abdomen and moves up into the chest
- Usually occurs after eating or while lying down or bending over
- May awaken you from sleep, especially if you have eaten within two hours of going to bed
- Is usually relieved by antacids
- May be accompanied by a sour taste in your mouth — especially when you’re lying down
- May be accompanied by a small number of stomach contents rising up into the back of your throat (regurgitation)
You may also have a cough or hiccups that keep coming back, a hoarse voice, bad breath, bloating and feeling sick.
A heart attack (myocardial infarction or MI) is a serious medical emergency in which the supply of blood to the heart is suddenly blocked, usually by a blood clot.
As mentioned, heart attacks come with a similar chest pain that you experience with heartburn.
The NHS site says: “The chest can feel like it’s being pressed or squeezed by a heavy object, and pain can radiate from the chest to the jaw, neck, arms and back.”
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The six key differences
The best way to tell a heart attack from heartburn is to know and be able to recognise the signs and symptoms that are more likely to occur with a heart attack than with heartburn.
The Mayo Clinic explains: “The textbook heart attack involves sudden, crushing chest pain and difficulty breathing, often brought on by exertion.
“Many heart attacks don’t happen that way, though.
“The signs and symptoms of a heart attack vary greatly from person to person and heartburn itself can accompany other symptoms of a heart attack.”
Typical heart attack signs and symptoms (but not heartburn symptoms) include:
- Pressure, tightness, pain, or a squeezing or aching sensation in your chest or arms that may spread to your neck, jaw or back
- Nausea, indigestion, heartburn or abdominal pain
- Shortness of breath
- Cold sweat
- Lightheadedness or sudden dizziness
The most common symptom of heart attack for both men and women is chest pain or discomfort, the Mayo Clinic points out.
The site warns: “But, women are more likely than men to experience some of the other symptoms, such as jaw or back pain, shortness of breath, and nausea or vomiting.
“Heart problems are more common among people who have high blood pressure, diabetes or high cholesterol.
“Smoking and being overweight are other risk factors.”
If you’re experiencing persistent chest pain and you’re not sure if it’s heartburn or heart attack, ring 999 or get emergency medical help.
The Mayo Clinic adds: “Call your doctor if you had an episode of unexplained chest pain that went away within a few hours and you did not seek medical attention.
“Both heartburn and a developing heart attack can cause symptoms that subside after a while – the pain doesn’t have to last a long time to be a warning sign.”