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Learn the difference between Heartburn and Heart Attack

Dec 04, 2023

Despite the fact that heartburn and heart attacks are completely different medical illnesses, they often have similar symptoms that might cause confusion.

Knowing the differences between these two conditions is essential as it can determine whether you take antacids or get help right away. 

Heart Attack vs. Heartburn

When the blood supply to a section of the heart muscle is cut off, usually by a blood clot, it is referred to as a heart attack

Heart Attack vs. Heartburn

A piece of the heart muscle can get damaged or destroyed by the obstruction, which could result in serious consequences or even death if it is not immediately addressed.

On the other hand, heartburn is a frequent digestive problem that happens when stomach acid backs up into the esophagus, the tube that transports food from your mouth to your stomach.

The burning sensation in the chest and throat brought on by this backward flow of acid is frequently referred to as "heartburn."

What is the difference between Heart Attack and Heartburn?

Heart Attack vs. Heartburn

Heart attack

1. Crushing Chest Pain:

A crushing, squeezing, or pressure-like discomfort in the chest that may spread to the arms, neck, chin, or back is one of the telltale signs of a heart attack.

2. Shortness of Breath:

Shortness of breath is a common symptom of heart attacks, which may often include sweating, nausea, or lightheadedness.

3. Chest Discomfort:

Heart attacks cause chest pain that is both more severe and more prolonged than heartburns.

4. Pain Intensity:

The pain associated with a heart attack is often severe and persists for several minutes. Immediate medical assistance is required as it does not improve with rest or change in body position.

Heartburn

1. Burning Sensation:

A burning sensation in the chest or throat is the primary symptom, often accompanied by a sour taste in the mouth.

2. Occasional Nature:

Heartburn often comes and goes and is frequently brought on by certain foods, beverages, or activities. Antacids or dietary changes are typically effective in treating it.

3. Location of Pain:

Heartburn is characterized by a burning discomfort that is typically located in the lower chest region, just beneath the sternum.

4. Posture and Activity:

Heartburn sensations may become more severe after a heavy meal and can worsen when lying down or bending over.

Women and Heart Attacks

Although men and women both experience heart attack symptoms, according to the University of Utah, it's likely that women may feel pain differently than men. Heart disease in women is a fairly common occurrence.

Women might either underreport symptoms or choose to ignore them as a result of this differing pain threshold level. Therefore, it is important for women to be aware of and maintain their heart health.

According to the CDC), heart disease, which includes heart attacks, claims just 1.3 million lives in the United States each year.

Acid Reflux vs. Heartburn

Heartburn is frequently caused by acid reflux, which is also referred to as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). This is the underlying ailment accompanied by heartburn.

It happens when the muscular ring known as the lower esophageal sphincter (LES), which separates the esophagus from the stomach, weakens or relaxes in an unnatural way, enabling stomach acid to flow back into the esophagus.

Key Characteristics of Acid Reflux:

Key Characteristics of Acid Reflux

1. Frequent Heartburn:

Recurrent heartburn episodes can result from chronic acid reflux, especially after meals or when lying down.

2. Regurgitation:

Acid reflux can cause the sensation of regurgitation, which is when the stomach contents, including acid, come back up into the throat or mouth.

3. Hoarseness and Coughing:

Chronic coughing, hoarseness, and a sore throat are a few symptoms that can result from persistent acid reflux irritating the throat.

If left untreated, severe acid reflux can lead to more serious complications, such as esophagitis, Barrett's esophagus, and even an increased risk of esophageal cancer.

Differentiating Acid Reflux from Heart Attack

It's important to note that while acid reflux and heartburn can mimic some of the symptoms of a heart attack, they are fundamentally different conditions.

Differentiating Acid Reflux from Heart Attack

Here are some key distinctions to help you tell them apart:

1. Location of Pain:

Heartburn and acid reflux symptoms are usually centered in the chest or upper abdomen, while heart attack pain tends to spread to other areas like the arms, neck, and jaw.

2. Pain Quality:

Heartburn and acid reflux typically produce a burning or discomforting sensation, whereas a heart attack is characterized by intense pressure or squeezing in the chest.

3. Duration:

Heartburn and acid reflux symptoms are often short-lived and may improve with antacids or changes in position. In contrast, a heart attack's pain is usually persistent and lasts for several minutes.

4. Triggers:

Acid reflux symptoms are often triggered by specific foods, beverages, or activities, whereas a heart attack can occur suddenly and is not related to dietary factors.

Symptoms of Heart Attack

Symptoms of Heart Attack

  • Chest Pain
  • Shortness of Breath
  • Cold Sweats
  • Nausea or Vomiting
  • Pain Down the Arm
  • Jaw Pain
  • Back Pain
  • Unusual Fatigue

Symptoms of Heartburn and Acid Reflux

Recognizing the symptoms of heartburn and acid reflux can help you distinguish them from a heart attack.

Symptoms of Heartburn and Acid Reflux

Typical symptoms of heartburn and acid reflux include

  • Burning Sensation
  • Sour Taste or Acidic Taste 
  • Post-Meal Occurrence
  • Lying Down or Bending Over
  • Chronic Cough
  • Hoarseness
  • Chest Discomfort

When to Seek Medical Help?

  • If you experience severe, crushing chest pain that lasts for more than a few minutes.
  • Shortness of breath, cold sweats, nausea, or lightheadedness accompanying the chest pain.
  • You have a history of heart disease or are at risk due to factors like age, smoking, obesity, or family history.
  • Your symptoms do not improve after taking an over-the-counter antacid.

Preventing Heartburn and Acid Reflux

While heartburn and acid reflux are common digestive issues, they can often be managed through preventive medicine, lifestyle changes, and dietary modifications:

  • Identify and avoid foods that can trigger the symptoms, such as spicy, fatty, or acidic foods
  • Smaller, more frequent meals can help prevent overeating, reducing the likelihood of acid reflux. Food and the heart are very closely connected. 
  • Excess weight can put pressure on the abdomen, leading to an increased risk of acid reflux.
  • Sleeping with your head raised by about 6-8 inches can help prevent nighttime reflux.
  • Eating close to bedtime can increase the risk of acid reflux. Try to finish meals at least two to three hours before sleeping.
  • Both alcohol and smoking can weaken the lower esophageal sphincter and increase the risk of reflux.

If you are already experiencing heartburn or acid reflux, there are several ways to manage the symptoms:

  • Over-the-Counter Medications
  • Dietary Modifications
  • Lifestyle Changes
  • Prescription Medications
  • Surgical Options:

It's important for your health that you grasp the distinction between heartburn and a heart attack. Although they can have similar symptoms, they differ in terms of their etiology, risk factors, and treatment.

Do not hesitate to seek immediate medical assistance if you ever suffer significant chest discomfort. Connect with a doctor from Access Health Care Physicians to learn more.

Frequently Asked Questions

You can initially check for the pulse, heart rate, and blood pressure at home to confirm if it's within the appropriate range.

Shortness of breath, sweating, and dizziness are some symptoms women should look out for.

A significant difference is that a heart attack typically feels like pressure, tightness, or squeezing in the chest. Heartburn on the other hand frequently resembles a burning sensation and can sometimes spread to the esophagus.