How can I tell the difference between a heart attack and indigestion?

Alvin S. Haynes Jr., MD
Internal Medicine
Heart attack symptoms can be similar to those of heartburn.  Alvin Haynes, MD, of Regional Medical Center of San Jose expains the difference and when you should see a doctor.

What might seem like indigestion could be a heart attack or a symptom of coronary artery disease, particularly if you are a woman. Coronary artery disease occurs when arteries that carry blood to your heart are narroweddue to an accumulation of a fatty substance called plaque. Coronary artery disease can eventually lead to a heart attack.

Not all patients who experience heart attacks will have chest pain. Heart attack symptoms can include any of the following: chest discomfort that can feel like uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness or pain; discomfort or pain in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw or stomach; shortness of breath; breaking out in a cold sweat; or feeling nauseated or lightheaded.

Men and women can both experience a heart attack as a feeling of indigestion, though it is more common for women to do so. If you are concerned that your indigestion may be a heart attack - and particularly if you have existing heart disease or the indigestion has not responded to heartburn medication - seek medical attention immediately. Remember: it is far better to find out you are only experiencing indigestion than to ignore the symptoms and delay heart attack treatment.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.