Heartburn or Heart Attack? When to be concerned

Experiencing chest pain can be uncomfortable and frightening, especially because everyone knows the cardinal symptom of a heart attack is chest pain. Yet chest pain is also the primary symptom of heartburn, even though despite its name, heartburn has nothing to do with the heart. One of these conditions requires immediate medical attention, while the other merely requires some antacid and time to pass, but how can you be sure? Like, really sure?

Your life is too valuable to be unsure about something so serious, but don’t worry, we’re detailing the differences for you here. 

What is Heartburn?

Heartburn is pain or discomfort in the chest that may travel upwards into the throat or jaw and is caused by stomach acid that gets backed up into the esophagus. Heartburn often occurs due to eating spicy foods, drinking excess coffee or alcohol, eating too late, and engaging in physical activity shortly after eating. Heartburn affects people of all ages, and it’s been found that more than 60 million people in the U.S. experience heartburn at least once a month.*

What is a Heart Attack?

Heart attacks typically occur because blood flow to the heart muscle is impaired or completely blocked due to plaque buildup in the arteries. Heart attacks are unfortunately very common, in fact, every 40 seconds someone in the U.S. suffers from a heart attack.**

Circumstances of the Symptoms

Heartburn typically occurs after a meal, but a heart attack can occur randomly or after physical or emotional stress. It’s important to be mindful of what’s happening when chest pain is felt to help determine if it’s simply heartburn or a heart attack.

If it’s late in the evening and you’re scarfing down a burrito, washing it away with wine, and treating yourself to some chocolate, then the pain you feel is probably just heartburn. But if you’re just walking the dog or even deadlifting at the gym when chest pain is felt, then take a rest and sit for a minute. If the pain doesn’t go away, then it’s best to call 911 or your doctor for immediate assistance. 

If you’re too nervous to call because you think it’s probably nothing, just remember, it’s absolutely better to be safe than sorry. There’s no harm in seeking medical assistance if it’s nothing, but the harm of not getting help? Life changing.

What are the Symptoms?

Heartburn is primarily accompanied with chest pain, but it can also cause a bitter or sour taste in the back of the mouth.

Heart attack symptoms can vary and last for a few minutes, but the typical signs include:

  • Pain or tightness in the chest
  • Discomfort felt through the arm, neck, and/or jaw
  • Shortness of breath
  • Sweating

Some studies suggest that men are more likely to experience those common heart attack indicators, but women may experience other symptoms, including:

  • Lightheadedness or dizziness
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Back pain
  • Unexplained fatigue
  • Heartburn

Know Your Risks

Chest pain is especially alarming for those with heart disease risk factors, which includes:

  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol
  • Diabetes or prediabetes
  • Smoking
  • Family history of heart disease
  • Overweight or obese
  • Sedentary lifestyle
  • Advanced age

For someone with any of these risk factors who feels chest pain, seeking quick medical attention is the best step to make.

Care, for all aspects of life

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