Heartburn and heart attack are two distinct illnesses that can cause the same sensation: discomfort in the chest. And despite the fact that certain cinematic portrayals of heart attacks show them as dramatic, chest-clenching episodes, this is not necessarily the case in real life.

This article examines how heartburn and a heart attack can be differentiated from one another and how you can manage them. On the other hand, whenever you are uncertain about what you might be feeling, it is always preferable to err on the side of caution rather than regret.

Understanding heartburn and heart attack

Heartburn is the unpleasant sensation resulting from stomach acid rising into unintended areas like the esophagus and mouth. The acid generates a scalding feeling that travels through the chest and into the shoulders. When stomach acid rises into the esophagus, it is called acid reflux.

The discomfort of heartburn is a symptom or manifestation, not a sickness in and of itself. The searing discomfort develops when stomach acid rises up into one’s esophagus.

On the other hand, a heart attack occurs when coronary arterial disease cuts blood flow to a section of the heart. The coronary arteries are the blood vessels that supply blood to the heart, and damage in them is the direct cause of a heart attack.

These arteries and veins carry oxygen-rich blood throughout the body, providing vital nutrients and oxygen that keep the organ functioning. So, cutting the supply may cause the heart to cease beating entirely during a heart attack leading to cardiac arrest. A person in cardiac arrest will not be able to respond to you and won’t have a heartbeat.

Heartburn and heart attack: Difference in terms of causes

Causes of heartburn

A variety of commonplace factors can set off an episode of heartburn. Many people’s episodes of heartburn can be traced back to changes in their diet and routine. These tendencies include regularly consuming vast amounts of food, snacking before night, or experiencing excessive stress.

It might be triggered or exacerbated by certain factors, including:

  • Consuming certain foods like coffee, tomatoes, and chocolate, amongst other heartburn trigger foods.
  • A rise in hormone levels, particularly estrogen or progesterone
  • Some pharmaceuticals, including anti-inflammatory medications (like ibuprofen)

Heartburn can have multiple causes, some of which are related to your daily routine. The following are examples of common lifestyle choices that can aggravate acid reflux:

  • Smoking
  • Consuming too much alcohol and other carbonated beverages
  • Experiencing intensive stress
  • Carrying extra weight

Causes of heart attack

Heart attack is primarily a result of coronary heart disease, which reduces or suddenly halts blood flow to the heart. Deficiency in the supply may lead to damage and eventual death of cardiac muscle.

Your risk of developing a heart attack also increases if you smoke, have high blood pressure or diabetes, and when you are overweight or obese.

Other rare causes of a heart attack include:

Addiction to Drugs

A heart attack can be triggered by using stimulants like cocaine, amphetamines (speed), and methamphetamines (crystal meth), which cause the coronary arteries to constrict and cut off blood flow.

Blood oxygen deficiency (hypoxia)

If the oxygen content of the blood drops, as can happen with poisoning from carbon monoxide or when lung function declines, the heart will get deoxygenated blood.

Image alt text: heart burn and heart attack. Samarin, the drug used to reduce heart burn.

Author credit: By Styroks – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=83885879

So, how can you know someone is suffering from heartburn or heart attack?

Heartburn and heart attack: Signs and symptoms

Symptoms can be similar for a heart attack and heartburn, making it hard to tell the actual cause. Diagnoses are generally difficult for doctors to make based on symptoms alone; therefore, they typically resort to testing instead.

Signs and symptoms of heartburn

Most cases of heartburn are harmless and will clear up on their own. However, it’s crucial to recognize the signs and symptoms, as they can be similar to those of more severe conditions like a heart attack.

Itching and pain in the esophagus are symptoms of heartburn. Pain like this, which is searing in nature, typically occurs well above the stomach. The acid can travel much further, to the top of the mouth.

A person’s level of discomfort from heartburn may range from moderate irritation to severe pain. You may also experience the following:

  • Sour throat taste or acidic aftertaste
  • Painful scorching pains behind the breastbone
  • Radiating pain that starts in the upper abdomen and works its way to the head and neck
  • A discomfort that gets worse as you alter your position, such by leaning forward or reclining down
  • symptoms that seem to intensify after consuming specific foods, like alcohol, coffee, tomato sauce, or chocolate

Other symptoms include:

  • Nausea
  • Belching
  • Bloating

Unusual heartburn symptoms can arise from time to time. Some people have complained of experiencing difficulties with their breathing or with their ears, nose, or throat. For some, heartburn might cause genuine chest pain. If the discomfort in your chest is severe enough, you can start to worry that you’re experiencing a heart attack.

Signs and symptoms of heart attack

Everyone’s experience of a heart attack is unique. While some people may only experience slight discomfort, others may suffer from debilitating heart pain. Sometimes, symptoms aren’t there at all.

Some patients have no warning before a heart attack occurs, but many experience symptoms sometimes beforehand.

Indicators of a possible heart attack may include:

  • Tightening, squeezing, or pressing pain or discomfort in the chest
  • Ache that comes and goes but sticks around for a while

Most people experience:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Vomiting and nausea
  • Lightheadedness or feeling dizzy
  • Cold sweat

It’s common for chest pain to be in the center or the center-left of the chest, but these locations are not always the case. However, there’s a chance the discomfort will spread, affecting your arms, neck, mouth, and upper or middle back.

Please, call emergency help if you think someone is experiencing a heart attack or when you discover someone unconscious. The next step is to ensure the person is still alive by checking their pulse and respiration. Then proceed to administer CPR, especially if the victim is unresponsive and you cannot detect a pulse.

What’s the difference between the symptoms of heartburn and those of heart attack?

The critical distinction between heartburn and heart attack includes the following:

  • While heart attacks are less likely to occur after a meal, heartburn symptoms are often more severe when lying down.
  • Medications that lower stomach acid levels are effective at treating heartburn.
  • More general symptoms, including shortness of breath, are not brought on by heartburn.
  • Although heartburn can create symptoms like bloating and burping, a heart attack itself does not cause these.


If you suffer from heartburn, you may notice symptoms after eating. There appears to be no correlation between your diet and your heart attack.

It’s common for people with heartburn to have a bitter aftertaste or a burning sensation in the lower chest. However, stomach discomfort, nausea, and other gastrointestinal symptoms may signal a heart attack.

For most people, heartburn begins as a burning sensation in the upper abdomen and eventually makes its way to the chest. However, heart attack symptoms typically begin in the chest and spread to other body parts, including the arms, jaw, neck, and back.

What conditions are easily mistaken for heartburn?

The following conditions, among others, have the potential to be misdiagnosed as heartburn:

  • Gastritis
  • Pancreatitis
  • Peptic ulcer disease
  • Esophageal spasm, which may lead to chest pain
  • Gallbladder disease, which may spread to the chest area, causing intense pain around the abdomen

Seek immediate medical assistance if you are experiencing symptoms and are unsure whether they are related to heartburn or anything else.

How to manage heartburn and heart attack

Diagnosis and treatment of heartburn

Multiple methods can be used to determine if a patient has acid reflux:

Assessment of the Signs and Symptoms

The doctor will inquire as to the frequency, duration, severity, and changes in symptoms in response to things like diet, posture, and stress levels, among other things.

Gastroscopy imaging

Using an endoscope and a special camera, it is possible to inspect the inside of the gastrointestinal tract for signs of injury.

The doctors may also perform: pH testing to determine the level of acids in your food pipe

The treatment required is condition specific. But to prevent heartburn, you must:

  • Avoiding foods known to cause acid reflux.
  • Use the right medicine to limit acid production or neutralize existing acid
  • Change your way of life, such as eating more frequently and at a smaller meal size

Managing heart attack

You can easily manage and prevent a heart attack by adopting a healthy lifestyle through the following:

  • Avoiding alcohol and nicotine/smoking
  • Eating heart-healthy foods
  • Exercising regularly to lessen your chances of being overweight or obese is linked to a high cardiometabolic risk.
  • Consider regular screenings for blood pressure, cholesterol level, and diabetes type 2 testing.
  • Manage your stress and ensure you get enough sleep or rest.


Although most people will have heartburn occasionally after a large meal or after consuming particular meals, the symptom can be mistaken for many other ailments like a heart attack.

You should get medical help immediately if you’re having chest pains and are concerned that it’s a heart attack. Symptoms can often be alleviated by adjusting one’s lifestyle, such as changing one’s diet or taking over-the-counter drugs.