Heart attack and heartburn: Here's how to spot the difference

Heart attacks and heartburn both cause pain in the chest, but not being able to tell them apart can be life-threatening. Here is how to spot the difference.

Here's how to tell the difference between a heart attack and heartburn
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Here's how to tell the difference between a heart attack and heartburn

Despite the common misconception that heart attacks are accompanied by sharp, chest-clutching pain, it’s not always the case.

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A strong chest ache can be a symptom of non-life-threatening conditions such as heartburn which can be managed with natural remedies. Even though not always bad news, this symptom should make you alert as it can lead to tragic consequences.

Call the NHS or head to your local A&E if in doubt.

Luckily there are ways to spot the difference between heart attack and heartburn as the areas in and around the chest that are affected by pain, and the pain sensations themselves, are not exactly the same.

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Heart attack vs. Heartburn

Heart attacks and heartburn have different medical reasons behind the pain they cause.

A heart attack, also called a myocardial infarction, is when a major artery or arteries in your heart don’t get enough blood flow. As a result, areas of your heart don’t get enough blood and oxygen. Within seconds, your lungs are likely burning and your chest feels tight.

When a person has a heart attack, their heart can’t work to produce more blood flow. The results can be chest pain, but other symptoms occur too.

Heartburn occurs when acid from your stomach rises up into your oesophagus and sometimes into your mouth.

While your stomach lining is strong enough to not be affected by the acid, the lining of the oesophagus doesn’t have the same kind of tissue which leads to a burning sensation. This can cause chest pain and discomfort.

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What is the difference in symptoms of heart attack and heartburn?

A heart attack typically includes an uncomfortable sensation in the centre or left side of the chest that’s sometimes described as pressure, squeezing, or a ‘fullness.’

Heartburn includes a burning sensation that starts in the upper part of the stomach and radiates to the chest.

Heartburn triggers pain that usually takes place after eating while pain during the heart attack comes on suddenly. The latter can also cause shortness of breath, pain or discomfort in your neck, jaw, back, and shoulders and feeling weak or faint.

Heartburn is easy to recognise by the sour taste in your mouth and burning sensation in your throat.

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Sources used:

- Healthline: 'Am I Having Heartburn or a Heart Attack?'

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