The symptoms of severe heartburn (GERD) and the symptoms of heart disease or a heart attack can sometimes be very similar, which can make it difficult to tell the difference between the two. If you’re experiencing chest pain, how do you know if it’s simply heartburn or if you need to call for help?
What is GERD?
Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is chronic heartburn, which occurs when the contents of the stomach frequently back up into the esophagus. GERD is often identified by damage to the esophagus not seen in occasional cases of heartburn or reflux.
What is heart disease?
Heart disease is the general term used to describe a variety of heart problems, many of which are related to a buildup of plaque in the walls of the arteries, which can cause blockages leading to a heart attack.
The more untreated or undertreated risk factors for heart disease a person has, the higher their likelihood for heart disease over time. Risk factors for heart disease include:
- High blood pressure
- High cholesterol
- Diabetes and prediabetes
- Being overweight or obese
- A family history of heart disease
- Unhealthy diet
Sometimes symptoms of heart disease can be similar to that of heartburn, particularly the burning or painful sensation in the chest. While it may be easy to write your chest pain off as the result of last night’s dinner, if you experience chronic “heartburn” that subsides for a while and then returns, call your doctor. A developing heart attack can cause symptoms that come and go. When it comes to your heart, it’s better to be safe than sorry.
Is your chest pain caused by heartburn?
Heartburn is discomfort or a burning sensation caused by acid reflux. When stomach acid moves into the esophagus, it can cause a burning sensation known as heartburn. Common symptoms of heartburn include:
- A burning sensation that originates in the upper abdomen and moves to the chest
- Discomfort that occurs after eating or while lying down or bending over
- Pain or discomfort that wakes you up at night
- Sour taste in your mouth (especially when lying down)
Antacids typically effectively relieve discomfort from heartburn.
Is your chest pain a sign of a heart attack?
The most familiar signs of a heart attack are sudden chest pain and shortness of breath. However, not all heart attacks happen suddenly. Signs and symptoms of a heart attack can vary from one person to the next. Here are some signs your chest pain may be more than heartburn:
- A pressure, tightness or squeezing sensation in the chest or arms that may spread to the neck, jaw or back
- Heartburn, abdominal pain, nausea or indigestion
- Shortness of breath
- Cold sweat
- Sudden dizziness or lightheadedness
Call 911 if your chest pain is persistent and you aren’t sure if it’s just heartburn.