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

Donato A. Sisto, MD
Thoracic Surgery (Cardiothoracic Vascular)
Heartburn and heart attack exhibit similar symptoms. Donato Sisto, MD from Portsmouth Regional Hospital explains the importance of avoiding a self-diagnosis and contacting your doctor for a proper one in this video.
Tseday Sirak, MD
Cardiology (Cardiovascular Disease)
In this video, Tseday Sirak, MD from StoneSprings Hospital Center, explains how difficult it is to differentiate heartburn from heart attack. Find out when its time to seek professional help.
Jeremy G. Enslein, DO
Cardiology (Cardiovascular Disease)
Unfortunately, there is no perfect way to differentiate heartburn and a heart attack. Certainly, a response to an antacid marked by improvement in symptoms could suggest acid reflux/heartburn. Conversely, if nitroglycerin helps the discomfort, this could be a clue that symptoms may be cardiac in nature. Until this has been properly evaluated, it is impossible to know for sure, and patients should err on the side of caution and seek medical attention.
Rakesh K. Shah, MD
Cardiology (Cardiovascular Disease)
Symptoms of heart attack and severe heartburn can be difficult to differentiate. You've just eaten a big meal and feel a burning sensation in your chest. Heartburn, right? Probably, but there's a chance the chest pain is caused by reduced blood flow to your heart or an actual heart attack. A muscle spasm in the esophagus can also mimic chest pain. Gallbladder attack can also feel similar to heart attack, especially because of concurrent symptoms of nausea, vomiting and radiated pain to shoulders. The best plan is to seek medical attention and have heart attack ruled out.
Chetan A. Patel, MD
Cardiology (Cardiovascular Disease)
It can sometimes be difficult to distinguish heartburn or indigestion pain from a heart attack. If you do not have a history of heartburn or the discomfort is worse or different than usual, you should be more concerned about a heart attack. There is no absolute way to tell the difference so if something does not feel right to you, it is better to be safe than sorry. If you are concerned the discomfort could be from a heart attack, you should seek immediate medical care in an Emergency Department or call 911. Never drive yourself to the emergency room if you think you might be having a heart attack.

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Lawrence S. Friedman, MD
Chest pain may mean a heart attack instead of heartburn. Symptoms associated with gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) can mimic the pain of a myocardial infarction (heart attack) or angina (chest pain caused by diminished blood flow through the coronary arteries), especially when the sensation is constricting rather than burning in nature. It can be dangerous to assume that your chest pain is caused by reflux. People with known reflux disease should always seek medical attention if they experience chest discomfort brought on by exercise, which may signal either angina or a heart attack.

How can you be sure that you have heartburn, not a heart attack? The main thing to determine is the severity and length of your chest pain. If it's a severe, pressing, or squeezing discomfort, it may be a heart attack. And heart attack pain lasts awhile. If it goes away in five to 10 minutes, it's probably not a heart attack. It could be angina, however, which does require a visit to the doctor -- and treatment. It's important not to dismiss chest tightness, especially if it follows physical exercise.
Dr. Mehmet Oz, MD
Cardiology (Cardiovascular Disease)

You may not know if heartburn is a heart attack in disguise. People with heartburn can be having a heart attack, and people having a heart attack, may experience heartburn. Distinguishing between the two is difficult. Pay attention to when the attack occurs and how you feel. If you are getting it 30 to 45 minutes after a meal, it is probably heartburn. Heart attacks often occur with activity or exertion and many people have a feeling of impending doom when they are having a heart attack.

Symptoms of a heart attack include the following: 

    • Sudden pressure, tightening, squeezing or crushing chest pain

    • Pain that radiates to the back, neck, jaw, shoulders or arms,
      particular the left side

    • Shortness of breath, sweating, dizziness, nausea or stomach pain

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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.