Chest pain: is it heartburn or a heart attack?

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Experiencing chest pain can be alarming, and for good reason, as it’s often associated with heart issues.

However, not all chest pain signals a heart attack. Sometimes, the cause is something less serious but still uncomfortable, like heartburn.

Understanding the differences between these types of chest pain can help you decide when to seek immediate medical help or when to try some home remedies.

This article discusses key distinctions between heart attack and heartburn-related chest pain, backed by research and medical insights.

Background on Chest Pain

Chest pain is a common symptom that can stem from various conditions, ranging from gastrointestinal issues to heart-related problems.

The nature of the pain, along with accompanying symptoms, can provide clues about its cause.

It’s crucial to differentiate between heartburn and a heart attack because while one can be treated with over-the-counter medications, the other requires urgent medical attention.

Heartburn: A Fiery Foe

Heartburn, also known as acid reflux, occurs when stomach acid backs up into the esophagus, causing a burning sensation in the chest.

It’s a symptom of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) and is often triggered by certain foods, alcohol, stress, or lying down after eating.

Heartburn pain is usually described as a burning feeling behind the breastbone that might worsen when bending over or lying down.

Research published in the Journal of Gastroenterology and Hepatology highlights that heartburn’s characteristic burning sensation can be mistaken for heart pain, especially when it’s severe.

However, heartburn-related chest pain typically doesn’t radiate to other parts of the body, which is a key difference from heart attack pain.

Heart Attack: A Silent Alarm

A heart attack occurs when the blood flow to a part of the heart is blocked, usually by a blood clot. This can cause damage to the heart muscle and needs immediate medical attention.

Symptoms of a heart attack can include chest pain or discomfort that feels like pressure, squeezing, fullness, or pain in the center or left side of the chest.

This pain can last for a few minutes or come and go. Unlike heartburn, heart attack pain might spread to other areas, such as the arms, neck, jaw, stomach, or back.

Research in the American Heart Journal emphasizes that heart attack symptoms can vary greatly among individuals, and sometimes, a heart attack may occur without any chest pain at all, especially in women.

They may experience shortness of breath, nausea, vomiting, or back or jaw pain instead.

Key Differences and Similarities

While both conditions can cause chest discomfort, several differences can help distinguish between them:

Nature of Pain: Heartburn causes a burning sensation, while heart attack pain is more likely to feel like pressure or squeezing.

Pain Location: Heartburn pain is usually confined to the chest area, whereas heart attack pain can radiate to other body parts.

Triggering Factors: Eating certain foods or lying down can trigger heartburn, while physical exertion might worsen heart attack symptoms.

Accompanying Symptoms: Heart attacks can come with other symptoms like shortness of breath, cold sweat, nausea, or lightheadedness, which are less common with heartburn.


Distinguishing between heartburn and a heart attack based on chest pain characteristics and accompanying symptoms is crucial.

If you’re unsure whether your chest pain is heartburn or a heart attack, it’s always safer to seek medical attention immediately.

Early intervention can save lives in the case of a heart attack, and understanding these differences can empower you to make informed decisions about your health.

If you care about heart disease, please read studies about a big cause of heart failure, and common blood test could advance heart failure treatment.

For more information about heart health, please see recent studies about a new way to repair human heart, and results showing drinking coffee may help reduce heart failure risk.

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