Is it a heart attack or heartburn? Here’s how to differentiate

You need to know the basic difference between a heart attack and heartburn as their symptoms can mimic each other and create confusion. 
widowmaker heart attack
Beware of widowmaker heart attack! Image courtesy: Shutterstock
Gurpreet Kaur Updated: 23 Oct 2023, 13:05 pm IST
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There are several reasons which can lead to chest pain and cause you discomfort. But the two most prominent reasons are definitely heart attack and heartburn. Heart attack happens if one of the arteries supplying blood to the heart becomes blocked. Similarly, angina pain occurs when the blood arteries are narrowed by a heart disease. Heartburn, on the other hand, is a sharp burning pain that is caused by the acid going back up the food pipe.

What is a heart attack?

A heart attack is a coronary artery disease, which happens due to the loss of blood supply to part of the heart muscle. It can cause the heart to stop functioning and it is also called a cardiac arrest, when the person doesn’t respond and has no pulse.

Major symptoms of a heart attack include chest pain that feels like pressure, heaviness, fullness, or ache. It also feels like a very heavy weight crushing against the chest with pain that comes and goes. Pain during a heart attack is usually central or central-left, and can also impact both arms, the neck, upper or mid-back.

heart problems in women
Awareness about signs and symptoms of a heart ailment is important. Image courtesy: Shutterstock

Also, read: 5 foods that can prevent the risk of heart attacks

What is angina?

This is a type of chest pain which is similar to a heart attack pain. However, it is not caused by the reduced supply of blood to the heart but due to vessel narrowing instead. People with angina are at higher risk of having a heart attack and they should be under constant medical care.

Angina pain is temporary and often goes away after rest or medication, if it is stable.

What is heartburn?

Heartburn is actually a symptom, not a disease. It is a pain that is caused due to acid reflux when the contents of the stomach splash back up to the food pipe. It does not lead to heart attack at all, however, the confusion between the two happens due to the location of the pain in the chest.

The pain due to heartburn usually happens just above the stomach, and can cause nausea, bloating, and belching.

How to differentiate between heart attack and heartburn?

Nowadays, the incidence of heart attacks and angina are on the rise, especially in the middle-aged population. Multiple factors like sedentary lifestyle, diabetes, obesity, smoking etc are responsible for this. The symptoms and signs of heart diseases vary from one individual to another.

According to Dr Sharwari Dabhade Dua, MD, Internal Medicine, Madhukar Rainbow Hospital, sometimes heartburn due to acidity can mimic angina/heart attack symptoms. It may be difficult to differentiate the kind of pain and discomfort between the two.

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Stay safe from heartburn. Image courtesy: Shutterstock

“Acidity or dyspepsia can cause heaviness in the chest. With heartburn or bloating, it usually occurs after a heavy meal or binge eating, and is localized to the center of the chest and stomach region. On the other hand, chest pain with angina or heart attack may have an acute onset, with heaviness and pain starting mainly in the left side of the chest. It can then radiate to the arms and shoulder region, its intensity increases on exertion or minimal activity. Heart attack pain is mostly associated with shortness of breath or heavy breathing, profuse sweating and palpitations,” Dr Dua told HealthShots.

The angina chest pain is not well-appreciated in uncontrolled diabetics and can be easily missed by such patients. Hence, patients with comorbid conditions like high blood pressure, diabetes or high cholesterol, need to be more careful towards such symptoms.

Lastly, be it heart attack, angina or heartburn, see a doctor as soon as you suffer chest pain to find the root cause. 

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About the Author

A lifestyle journalist with a perennial hunger for all nice things in life - from fashion to food and different cultures. When she is not writing in her favourite coffee spot, she spends her time socializing with people or exploring different cities. ...Read More

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