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Differentiating Between Heartburn and Heart Attack

If getting worried about unexplained pain in the chest, do not waste time waiting for it to subside. Immediately call for urgent care. Heart attack and heartburn are two different conditions with a similar symptom i.e. chest pain.

Differentiating Between Heartburn and Heart Attack

What is Heartburn?

Heartburn occurs when the acid in the stomach rises into the esophagus, which is the tube between the mouth and the stomach.

The acid is present in the stomach to digest food. The stomach wall lining is not affected by this acid. The lining of the esophagus does not have the same tissue and when the acid comes up it creates a burning sensation in the esophagus.


Heartburn leads to burning in the food pipe and that occurs just above the stomach. The acid can rise up further even to the back of the mouth.

Other symptoms include nausea, bloating and belching. Also, the taste in the mouth gets sour.

What is a Heart Attack?

Heart attack is an emergency condition in which the major arteries present in the heart do not get enough blood flow. This leads to a lack of blood flow and oxygen to the areas of the heart. It is also known as myocardial infarction.(1)

When a person has a heart attack, his heart cannot work efficiently to produce more blood flow. This leads to chest pain along with other symptoms.

The chest pain is usually sudden and central or central left and may spread to other areas such as both arm, neck, jaw, and upper and middle back.


Heart attack most often occurs with a few classic symptoms, which include:

Pain in the chest that is described as pressure, squeezing, heaviness, tightness, crushing, and aching.

There is a feeling of heavyweight crushing against the heart.

The pain may come and go and may last for a few minutes.

All heart attacks would not have the same symptoms. They may vary in severity and some may even experience no symptom at all.

Other symptoms of a heart attack include:


Angina is a chest pain that is similar to the pain of a heart attack.

It is caused by the narrowing of the vessels. People with angina are more at risk of getting a heart attack.

Stable angina is a condition in which there is temporary pain that goes away with rest whereas unstable angina is known to raise the risk of a heart attack.

Differentiating Between Heartburn and Heart Attack

  • The symptoms of heartburn subside after taking an antacid, lying flat, and bending forward. The pain in heart attack does not subside with an antacid or sitting up. Any kind of activity makes the symptoms worse.
  • The symptoms of heartburn occur within a couple of hours after eating. The symptoms of heart attack are not related to eating.
  • The pain in heartburn goes up to the throat while that of a heart attack radiates to the jaw, back, down both or one arm.
  • The symptoms of shortness of breath and sweating are not that severe with heartburn. The severity of these symptoms may indicate ischemia and would require medical attention.

Other Causes of Chest Pain

Heartburn and heart attack are not the only causes of chest pain. The other causes include:

  • Gallbladder pain: A gallbladder when gets blocked or diseases can lead to symptoms like pain in the shoulder, arm, neck and also cause nausea and vomiting.(2)
  • Anxiety attack: Severe anxiety bouts can lead to a feeling of heart racing along with shortness of breath and fear.
  • Esophageal muscle pain: Sometimes the esophagus tightens or spasms and causes chest pain and discomfort.(3)
  • Pleurisy: This is a condition in which there is inflammation of the tissues of the chest wall that occurs due to intense coughing, inflammation, or infection.

If you have chest pain and have a doubt that it can be a heart attack always call for emergency service. More time a heart spends without proper functioning more damage it will cause to the heart muscle. This is why it is not good to hesitate or think while experiencing a heart attack.

The main symptom of both heartburn and heart attack is chest pain but the other symptoms can help differentiate between the two.

Team PainAssist
Team PainAssist
Written, Edited or Reviewed By: Team PainAssist, Pain Assist Inc. This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer
Last Modified On:March 19, 2022

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