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Heart Attack Vs. Heartburn: How To Distinguish Between The Two

If you experience a sudden chest pain or burning sensation, here’s what you need to watch out for to know if it is a heart attack or heartburn.

Tenzin Chodon
Written by: Tenzin ChodonUpdated at: May 08, 2023 16:25 IST
Heart Attack Vs. Heartburn: How To Distinguish Between The Two

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Acidity and heartburn are one of the most common digestive problems, which can lead to symptoms, such as a burning pain in the chest especially after eating, pain that worsens while lying down, and regurgitation or spitting up food from the oesophagus. While it is not a life-threatening condition and can be treated with home remedies and antacids, its symptoms can often be confused or misinterpreted as a heart attack, or vice versa. Given that a misdiagnosis only leads to delayed treatment and in the case of a heart attack, increases the risk of death, it is important to know the differences between the conditions. 

Speaking with the OnlyMyHealth editorial team, Dr Sanjeev Gera, Director - Cardiology, Fortis Noida, helps answer some of the questions. 

Also Read: 7 Lesser Known Facts Of Cardiac Arrest

Symptoms That May Be Similar In Heart Attack And Heartburn

Heart attack occurs when the blood flow to the heart is blocked. When this happens, the tissues lose oxygen and begin to die, leading to symptoms, such as chest pain and tightness (angina), shortness of breath, pain that radiates to one or both arms, the neck, jaw, or upper or mid-back.

Heartburn refers to a burning pain in the chest, just behind the breastbone. The pain and discomfort worsens after eating or when lying down or bending over.

Certain symptoms, such as chest heaviness or pain, particularly central chest uneasiness, along with nausea, and vomiting can be overlapping signs of a heart attack and a heartburn, says Dr Gera. Having said that, it is important to know what sets them apart. 

How To Differentiate Between A Heart Attack And Heartburn?

There are certain symptoms that can help differentiate between a heart attack and a heartburn. Dr Gera says, “Breathlessness, sweating with chest discomfort, especially a feeling of suffocation is often seen in patients with a heart attack.”

“Any pain which comes with sweating or breathlessness in the presence of risk factors like high BP, Diabetes, high cholesterol, smoking or a family history of heart disease is most likely due to a heart attack especially when there is no relief after antacids,” he adds. 

In addition, a heartburn usually tends to get worse after eating or when lying down, while heart attack can occur after a meal too, says Mayo Clinic. That's not all, the Health Body suggests that while a heart attack does not cause bloating or belching, it is a common symptom in the cases of a heartburn. 

Also Read: GERD: Foods That Trigger Acid Reflux and Heartburn

Steps To Take

In case of a heart attack, Dr Gera recommends an Electrocardiogram (ECG) and a blood test called Troponin I that should be done as early as possible to confirm it. 

“Once a heart attack is diagnosed the best treatment is oral blood thinners and opening of the blocked artery which is causing heart attack by a procedure called Primary Angioplasty. Primary angioplasty if done during the first golden hour can reverse the damage caused by a heart attack,” he adds. 


Irrespective of what you may have, you must never ignore or overlook a sudden chest pain, especially if it is accompanied by shortness of breath, heart palpitations, and radiating pain in the shoulders, jaw, neck and the back. Particularly, if you have certain risk factors of heart disease, you must be more vigilant and must take necessary tests.