We have all heard about the guy who rushed to the hospital, convinced he was having a heart attack, only to discover it was a bad case of heartburn. This story ends with a big sigh of relief, but what if the scene had played out another way? Imagine that the man had kept popping antacids to settle heartburn, but the sharp pain he was treating was actually a heart attack.
Though their symptoms mirror each other, there are ways to differentiate between heartburn and heart attack or angina, a constricting chest pain that accompanies heart problems:
Heartburn: usually happens after eating or when you are lying down.
Heart attack: may happen after exertion or stress, but can occur unexpectedly.
Heartburn: is a burning sensation below the breast bone. Antacids can alleviate discomfort, or it can be remedied by shifting your body position.
Heart attack: feels like a crushing weight or pressure in the center of the chest. The pain spreads throughout the upper body, with pain or tightness in shoulders, neck, arms or jaw.
Heartburn: can be accompanied by nausea, which generally goes away as your stomach settles down.
Heart attack: can also be accompanied by nausea, along with cold sweats, shortness of breath, possible vomiting and lightheadedness. The latter symptoms almost never accompany heartburn and may be more likely to be experienced by women.
Heartburn: that is recurring can damage the esophagus and cause other serious problems. Persistent heartburn should be discussed with a doctor.
Heart attack: symptoms should never be ignored. If pain lasts more than a few minutes, go to the emergency room.
If you are unsure whether you may be having a heart attack, call 911 or immediately visit your nearest emergency room.