Is that pain in your chest a heart attack or just heartburn? The symptoms of both conditions tend to start in the same area of the chest and can be concerning. Half of the 8 million emergency room visits for heart attack symptoms turn out to be heartburn instead. It can be extremely painful and, if you don’t know the difference, terrifying.
Heartburn is a symptom of acid reflux or gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). Stomach acid enters the esophagus, burning the inside lining. This causes a stinging and burning just behind the breastbone. A heart attack, on the other hand, is caused by an insufficient flow of blood to the heart called angina. Heart attack symptoms are often described as pressure or squeezing. In the heat of the moment, it can be hard to tell the difference between the two.
What Are Symptoms of a Heart Attack vs Heartburn?
Symptoms to be aware of are:
- Burning pain beneath the breastbone
- Pain that moves up in the chest to the throat but doesn't radiate out
- The feel of food coming back into your mouth
- Bitter or acidic taste at the back of your throat
- The burning worsens when you lie down and bend over
- Symptoms appearing after a large or especially spicy meal
To combat heartburn and prevent ulcers and bleeding in the stomach, patients often take proton pump inhibitors (PPI). These can be either prescription or over-the-counter and prevent the release of acid from the stomach lining.
Even if a patient doesn’t have heartburn, a doctor may prescribe PPIs if they take medications that thin the blood. Long-term aspirin doses increase the risk of bleeding and can cause ulcers in the stomach. People at risk for heart attacks are encouraged to take aspirin daily, heightening concern when symptoms are misconstrued.
Symptoms of a heart attack are:
- Tightness, pressure, squeezing, stabbing, or pain, in the center of the chest
- Pain that spreads out to the shoulders, neck, or arms
- Irregular or too rapid heartbeat
- Cold sweat or clammy skin
- Lightheadedness, weakness, or dizziness
- Shortness of breath
- Nausea, indigestion, and sometimes vomiting
- The appearance of symptoms with physical exertion or extreme stress
People at risk for heart attack take aspirin daily to discourage blood clots from forming. Clopidogrel, another anti-clogging medication, can be prescribed to accompany aspirin. It is often given to patients with stents, to encourage blood flow. A stent is a small mesh tube implanted in a previously clogged artery to keep it open.
As mentioned before, these medications increase the risk of bleeding. It is wise to take a medication that will reduce stomach acid production and lessen the chance of irritation.
If you aren’t sure what are the symptoms of a heart attack and what is just heartburn, think of it in this way. If you burp and the burn lessens the pain, it is not a heart attack. If you are sweating and struggling to breathe, call for help right away. When in doubt ask for help anyway. It’s better to call your doctor and discover it’s just heartburn. Ignoring a pain that turns into a heart attack will leave you to deal with serious repercussions.
At BASS Medical Group, your care is our top priority. Never hesitate to contact our doctors with your concerns. If you have questions about symptoms or would like to make an appointment, call (925) 350-4044 today. It is important to remember that you are not alone. Bass Medical is here to take care of not only your heart health but all of you. We want to help you live your best, healthiest life today.