The pain experienced during a heart attack and during a severe heartburn episode can be difficult to distinguish.
It is not unusual for people to mistake symptoms of heart disease (such as angina and even a
heart attack) for heartburn. Similarly, many people go to the emergency room each year out of fear that they are having a heart attack, only to find out they have severe heartburn. In fact, it often takes medical testing to make the determination.
Pain May Be Difficult to Distinguish
In addition to some similar symptoms, both heartburn and heart attacks are more likely to occur in people over the age of 40. Here are some possible differences between the two conditions.
Possible Signs of Heartburn
A sharp, burning sensation below the breastbone or ribs
Burning sensation may move up toward the throat
Pain usually does not radiate to the shoulders, arms, or neck (although it can)
Pain often occurs after eating, particularly when lying down
Pain that increases when bending over, lying down, exercising, or lifting heavy objects
Bitter or sour taste at the back of the throat
Symptoms tend to respond quickly to antacids
Call 911 if you have any chest pain, even if you think it may be heartburn.
Possible Signs of Angina or Heart Attack
A feeling of uncomfortable fullness, pressure, squeezing, tightness, or pain in the center of the chest that lasts for more than a few minutes, or goes away and comes back
Pain or discomfort that spreads to one or both arms, the back, stomach, neck, or jaw
Gallbladder or pancreas problems—gallstones
or inflammation of the gallbladder or pancreas can cause abdominal pain, which can radiate to the chest
Disorders of the esophagus—swallowing disorders such as esophageal spasms and
(failure of esophageal muscle to relax)
Cancer—cancer involving the chest or that has spread from another part of the body
Seeking Medical Attention for Chest Pain
Chest pain can be difficult to interpret. Get emergency medical attention if you have any chest pain, especially if you have other signs and symptoms of a heart attack. A visit to the emergency room could save your life.
Heartburn, gastroesophageal reflux (GER), and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).
National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases website. Available at:
Updated May 2007. Accessed July 2, 2008.
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care
provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a
substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER
IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the
advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to
starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a