Heartburn vs. Heart Attack: Knowing the signs and when to go to the ER

Posted at 12:49 PM, Mar 20, 2014
and last updated 2014-05-09 17:56:32-04

Heartburn and heart attack symptoms can feel very similar, so learning to recognize the difference between the two may save you or someone you love.

What is heartburn?

Heartburn is a symptom of digestive acid refluxing into the esophagus from the stomach. If the lower esophageal sphincter is weakened or relaxes, stomach acid can flow up into the esophagus causing pain or discomfort in your upper abdominal region and chest, nausea, and bloating.

How can you tell the difference between heartburn and heart attack symptoms?

Heart-related chest pain can be difficult to differentiate from acid reflux pain. Heart attack symptoms can present themselves in a variety of ways—many similar to the symptoms felt with acid reflux. However, there are a few heart-related warning signs to look out for, especially if you have a history of heart problems.

- Sudden pressure or tightening in the center of the chest
- Pain or discomfort that spreads to the back, shoulder, neck, or jaw
- Shortness of breath with or without chest pain
- Sweating, lightheadedness, or dizziness

When should you seek medical attention?

If the heartburn seems worse or different than usual, especially if it is accompanied by shortness of breath, dizziness, sweating, or pain radiating to shoulder or jaw, seek emergency medical attention right away.

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