Heart Health Information
Home / / Health Information Library / Heart Health Information

Heart Attack vs. Heartburn?

The staff in the Emergency Department at DMC Sinai-Grace Hospital hear it all the time from patients: “I just thought it was heartburn.” Yet the patient was having a heart attack.

This confusion can be life threatening. Prompt medical attention is key for heart attacks, while heartburn is unlikely to be life threatening.

“The pain of a heart attack and of heartburn is so similar that sophisticated medical testing is sometimes the best way to diagnose which is occurring,” notes Anthony D. Williams, M.D., a gastroenterologist with offices in Detroit and Southfield. “The symptoms can feel the same to patients, and both conditions tend to occur in older, over-weight people.”

Chest pain is one symptom common to both heart attacks and heartburn, but in heart attacks the pain is more likely to be felt as squeezing, as if a belt is tightening around the chest, notes Mukarram A. Siddiqui, M.D., chief of cardiology at DMC Sinai-Grace Hospital. “In heart attacks, the pain can also radiate to the shoulders, neck or arms, whereas in heartburn it rarely does.”

Heart attacks – but not usually heartburn – also bring:

  • Cold sweat
  • Weakness, fatigue or dizziness
  • Shortness of breath

Dr. Williams says heartburn is more likely to respond to antacids and occur after meals or when lying down.

Other common symptoms of heartburn are:

  • Sharp, burning sensations in the throat
  • The feeling of food sticking in the throat
  • Chronic cough, sore throat or hoarseness

“Women should pay special attention to these confusing signs, because they are more likely to have heart disease symptoms that appear to be gastrointestinal symptoms,” warns Dr. Siddiqui. “They may have bloating, discomfort in the abdomen and overall GI distress, yet these may be signs of a heart attack. Women, especially after menopause, need to be especially aware that they may not have the ‘typical’ heart attack symptoms."

Sinai-Grace offers the latest equipment to test for both heart disease and GI conditions.