It can be difficult to differentiate severe heartburn from a dangerous heart attack, even for professionally trained doctors. If you’re worried about unexplained sensations, learn how these two conditions differ and find out when to seek immediate help.
Heartburn sensations occur when stomach acid moves upward from the stomach into the esophagus. While triggers can vary, the symptoms usually include:
- Burning just behind the breastbone after eating, with symptoms persisting a few minutes to several hours
- Chest pain that changes or worsens when you eat, lie down or bend over
- Sour, acidic or hot fluid at the back of the throat
- Swallowing difficulties
- A strange sensation that food is “stuck” in the throat or chest
- Chronic hoarseness, sore throat or cough
Heart Attack Symptoms
A sudden occurrence of coronary thrombosis (blockage of the flow of blood to the heart), a heart attack tends to manifest in the following ways:
- Dull pressure, tightness, fullness or pain in the chest
- Sensation of a belt constricting your chest
- Sudden chest pressure or pain that worsens
- Dizziness or lightheadedness
- Pain that radiates to the jaw, neck, arms or shoulders
- Shortness of breath
- Cold sweats
How Can I Tell the Difference?
It can be so difficult to distinguish a heart attack from severe heartburn. In fact, doctors sometimes need sophisticated medical testing to rule out a dangerous medical problem. If your symptoms go away when you alter your body’s position, you are most likely suffering from heartburn. That said, it’s important to seek immediate medical attention if you are worried or confused about any of your symptoms.
It’s quite common for people to visit the emergency room with heartburn symptoms. In most cases, it’s better to err on the side of caution, especially if you are overweight or have a family history of heart problems.