Heartburn or Heart Attack? Know The Difference

Heartburn, though it has “heart” in the name, has nothing to do with the heart. Heartburn is actually a very common condition where the acids of stomach rise to the oesophagus, and as oesophagus and heart are located closely, they both cause chest pain. This is the primary reason why everyone confuses heartburn and heart attack.

How to Be Sure If It Is Heartburn or Heart Attack?

When the acids rise to the oesophagus, it causes chest pain which can radiate to neck or throat. Esophagus refers to the tube which carries swallowed food to the stomach. The stomach is specially prepared to digest the foods with the acids, but the oesophagus is not.

Heartburn generally occurs after eating or drinking. If after eating, someone feels uncomfortable with sudden chest pain, but the pain goes away after belching, then it is probably heartburn.

But if the chest pain does not go away and there are other serious symptoms such as light headedness, then one should call an ambulance and get admitted to hospital for proper treatment.

Symptoms of Heartburn And Heart Attack

The most common features of heartburn are:

  • It initiates as a burning sensation in the upper abdomen, and then the sensation moves up to the chest
  • It generally occurs after eating and while lying down after eating
  • The burning sensation can wake someone from the sleep
  • There can be a sour taste in the mouth
  • It is possible that some of the stomach’s content can rise back up to the throat.

However, heartburn can be relieved typically by antacids. Belching help to a large extent too.

Now, the symptoms of heart attacks are explained. Though there are some pre-known symptoms of heart attack, the symptoms can be varied from person to person. The most common symptoms are listed below:

  • There is pain or pressure along with tightness around the chest. Afterwards, it gets spread to the arms and neck, jaw or back.
  • There can be instances of heartburn, nausea and abdominal pain
  • Shortness or difficulty of breathing is among the most common and dangerous symptoms of a heart attack
  • These symptoms can be accompanied with dizziness

According to studies, women are more prone towards the symptoms of heart attack. If any of these symptoms show up, the immediate thing is to call an ambulance and get hospitalised where proper medical attention can be attributed.


The cause of heartburn is simple:

  • Eating certain foods such as spicy foods, fried food, caffeine, alcohol, acidic fruits, and beverages. These problematic foods can cause the lower oesophagal sphincter to be weakened. This, in turn, helps the acids to rise into the oesophagus.
  • There are certain medicines too, which can cause heartburn. Such medicines include prednisone, aspirin, ibuprofen, Aleve etc. as these drugs have prostaglandin as one of their ingredients, which protects the stomach from the damages of acids.

Heart attack, on the other hand, happens due to the blockage of one or more coronary arteries. This blockage is the result of building up various substances within arteries like cholesterol. While having a heart attack, the artery can be ruptured, and cholesterol and other substances can be mixed up with blood causing a clot to form. If the clot is large enough it can block blood flow to the heart which means starvation of heart muscles of oxygen and other nutrients.

Risk factors

The major risk factors for heartburn are:

  • Being pregnant: Would-be mothers face heartburn a lot more than others. Almost 50% of pregnant ladies experience heartburn. Progesterone plays a great part in this, as it relaxes the muscle between oesophagus and stomach. In the later stages, however, heartburn can be caused by the fact that the fetus tries to push the stomach of the mother up towards diaphragm.
  • Eating harmful foods: Foods that are eaten play a major role in heartburn and wrong type of foods such as fried foods can increase the chance of heartburn.
  • Being overweight: Too much weight triggers more heartburn.

The risk factors for heart attack are:

  • High blood pressure: High blood pressure can be damaging to the arteries.
  • Cholesterol level: Low-density lipoprotein or LDL cholesterol can narrow the arteries which carry blood to the heart. Not only LDL, but high levels of triglycerides is also one of the main causes of heart attack. However, the good news is, high-density lipoprotein or HDL lowers the risk of having a heart attack.
  • Older age: Those who are older than 45 years have a higher risk of heart attack than others. Though the age can vary.
  • Smoking: Smoking tobacco can be a major cause of heart attack. Second-hand smoking can contribute to the chances of a heart attack too.
  • Being overweight: Being overweight is, most of the times associated with high cholesterol levels, high levels of triglyceride, excessive blood sugar and diabetes and these increase the chances of having heart attacks.

Diagnosing – Heartburn And Heart Attack

Diagnosis of heartburn may include:

  • Evaluation of the symptoms: The physician ask when and how often the symptoms show and for how long they stay. The questions also include the food habit and the posture of the patient.
  • Endoscopy: Endoscopy is an efficient imaging device which takes pictures of the food pipe to determine the damages.
  • pH testing: This is used to measure the acidity of the food pipe.

To diagnose a heart attack, the physician can take the following tests:

  • ECG: Electrocardiogram is used to trace the heart’s beat and rhythm and finding any abnormality if there is any.
  • Stress testing: Done on a treadmill, this monitors the heart and breathing.
  • Echocardiography: This using ultrasound monitors the heart.
  • Angiography: Dyeing the heart circulation to observe any abnormality is called angiography.


Both heartburn and heart attack can be prevented if one maintains a healthy lifestyle with a balanced diet and regular exercise. Moreover, to keep a check on the cholesterol level and triglyceride level, one should avoid foods that are high in cholesterol content.

Keeping a limit in drinking can prevent heartburn and heart disease, both.

To prevent heartburn, one should not lie down immediately after eating. Also, foods that cause acid reflux should be avoided. When eating a meal, it should be kept in mind that the portions should be small.

Healthy body weight can be a major tool to prevent heartburn and heart disease.

Smoking should immediately be ceased because the nicotine present in the cigarette smoke deprives the body of oxygen. This increases the amount of plaque in the arteries and, on the other hand, lowers the level of HDL or good cholesterol.


The treatment for the heartburn depends on the severity of the symptoms. Normally the most common treatments are:

  • Medications to control abdominal acids
  • Avoidance of foods that cause acid reflux

The treatments for heart attack are mostly linked to a healthy lifestyle and exercise, but when hospitalised, the medications can include:

  • Coronary intervention: The physician opens up manually narrowed arteries by inserting a catheter through the groin area.
  • Stent: Stent is a mesh tube which is left in the arteries so that it can prevent narrowing of the arteries.
  • Coronary artery bypass graft: In this surgery, the surgeon takes up an unaffected blood vessel from otherparts of the body and replaces the blocked artery.
  • Aspirin: This is used to stop the blood from clotting in the arteries.
  • Nitroglycerin: This compound helps to improve the blood flow in the narrowed arteries.
  • Medicines for chest pain: There are certain medications which can ease the chest pain.

Home Remedies

In the case of heartburn,

  • Try to belch as that can release the uneasiness
  • Keep some over the counter medication at home, such as antacids, which can help with the acid build-up.
  • Always use the gravity to keep the acids in its place. Lie in a bed where one side is placed higher than the other side. Keep the head in the elevated side to keep the acids in the stomach by using gravity.
  • Try to walk after eating a heavy meal.
  • Do not lie down immediately after taking a meal.

But if the uneasiness lasts longer than usual, then one should call an ambulance or seek medical help. Also, if the symptoms become chronic, it is best to consult a physician.

Heart attacks do not come with a warning, and it should be treated with a medical emergency, but there are some things which one should follow, even while staying in the home.

  • Keep the emergency number in mind and dial them as soon as the symptoms arise
  • If being alone at home, keeping a phone always is a viable option
  • One should not hesitate to ask for help
  • Temporary relief can be achieved by lying down, but that should not be for long.
  • Chewing an aspirin can help.

Sagar Papneja

For me, health is about sustainable living and consuming environmentally conscious food; I am a vegan.

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