Heartburn or Chest Pain? Here’s How to Tell the Difference

It might be challenging to discern between chest pain from heartburn and chest pain coming from a more serious cardiac issue. There are techniques to differentiate between heartburn and cardiac pain, even though both can start off unexpectedly and give you chest pain. Heartburn is essentially unrelated to the heart, but other forms of chest pain may indicate a cardiac condition.
Call 911 for immediate medical assistance if you are unsure of what is causing a persistent chest pain.

What Is Heartburn?

When stomach acid backs up into the esophagus, the tube that takes food into your stomach when you swallow, heartburn, also known as acid reflux, happens. At the top of the stomach, the esophageal sphincter typically functions as a valve to stop stomach acid from rising into the esophagus. In contrast, acid leaks beyond the valve in the case of heartburn, irritating the esophagus and resulting in the recognizable burning sensation felt in the chest and neck.
Heartburn typically happens after eating, and it can be especially bad after a big, fatty, or spicy meal. Since the hormone progesterone, which is generated during pregnancy, causes the esophageal sphincter muscle to relax, heartburn frequently happens during pregnancy as well. In the later stages of pregnancy, the expanding baby places additional pressure on the stomach, which could cause stomach acid to rise. Heartburn that occurs regularly could be a sign of gastroesophageal reflux illness (GERD).

What Are the Causes of Chest Pain?

Numerous medical diseases, ranging from mild issues to life-threatening conditions, can cause chest pain. A heart attack, which happens when the blood supply to the heart is compromised, is one major cause of chest pain. Additionally, angina, a condition where chest pain is triggered by exercise and eased by rest, can cause temporary chest pain. Additionally, issues with the heart’s blood flow might result in angina.

Chest pain can result from different cardiac conditions, such as inflammation of the heart’s pericardium or of the heart muscles themselves, in addition to a heart attack and angina (myocarditis). Chest pain is a common symptom of several respiratory illnesses, such as pneumonia, pulmonary embolisms, and severe asthma attacks. Muscle strains and rib cage cartilage inflammation are two musculoskeletal reasons of chest pain (costochondritis). The skin on the chest can hurt, especially during a case of shingles. Additionally, intense panic attacks can also result in chest discomfort.

The Characteristics of Chest Pain

Although both cardiac-related chest pain and heartburn can cause pain, there are usually several differences in these types of pain. Heartburn normally manifests as a burning sensation in the center of the chest, behind the breastbone, which in some cases can spread to the throat. Chest pain, which is cardiac in nature, is usually described as tight or crushing pain in the chest. Cardiac chest pain may also spread to the left shoulder, arm or jaw.

Another clue to the source of the pain is what you were doing right before it started. Meals frequently cause heartburn, especially if fatty or spicy food was consumed. By stooping or lying down, it gets worse. Although cardiac chest pain can develop at any moment, activity is commonly linked to it. Resting and sitting down may help reduce cardiac chest pain.

Symptoms Associated With Heartburn and Chest Pain

Examining additional symptoms that can be present is a crucial step in determining if chest pain from a cardiac cause or heartburn. A sour taste in the mouth or the impression that food is rising into the throat or mouth are classic symptoms of heartburn. Bending over or straining usually makes these feelings worse. However, the normal symptoms of cardiac chest discomfort include feeling generally ill, being out of breath, perspiring, and/or being dizzy.

  • Site: Typically the center of the chest, behind the breastbone.
  • Onset: Comes on gradually.
  • Timing: Typically occurs after eating.
  • Character: Burning discomfort.
  • Radiation: Can spread up towards the throat.
  • Associated Symptoms: Unpleasant taste in the mouth, regurgitation of foodstuffs.
  • Exacerbating Factors: Exacerbated by lying down, bending over or straining.
  • Relieving Factors: Relieved by sitting upright, antacids.
  • Severity: Mild to moderate, rarely severe.
  • History: History of acid reflux before.
Cardiac Chest Pain:
  • Site: Typically center of the chest.
  • Onset: Comes on suddenly.
  • Timing: Typically occurs following exertion and lasts for more than 20 minutes.
  • Character: Tight, crushing, “vice-like.”
  • Radiation: Can spread to the left chest, shoulder, arm or jaw.
  • Associated Symptoms: Sweating, breathlessness, nausea, lightheadedness, racing heart, and collapse.
  • Exacerbating Factors: Exacerbated by exercise.
  • Relieving Factors: Relieved by rest (angina); sometimes not relieved by rest (myocardial infarction, heart attack); relieved by nitroglycerin.
  • Severity: Moderate to severe.
  • History: History of heart problems or angina.

How to Treat Chest Pain

Treatments for chest discomfort of other sorts and heartburn are very dissimilar. Heartburn is typically treated by altering one’s lifestyle, including weight loss if necessary, quitting smoking, and modifying one’s dietary habits. Additionally, antacids, which reduce symptoms and neutralize stomach acid, may be advised. You can be prescribed a proton pump inhibitor or an H2-receptor antagonist to lower the production of stomach acid for longer-term harm avoidance.

Whether or if a heart issue is to blame for the pain will determine how to treat it. Furthermore, to pinpoint the precise reason of cardiac chest pain, medical testing is necessary. Sometimes it may be necessary to do surgery to open the heart’s arteries. In order to relax the arteries, medications like nitroglycerin may also be used to relieve chest pain. Long-term use of blood thinners and anti-clot drugs may be necessary.
Remember that chest pain can be a sign of a serious ailment and should not be disregarded. Even if the discomfort goes away and you believe it to be heartburn, a doctor should nonetheless examine you. Making an emergency call is preferable than risking your life if you are concerned that a chest ache is anything dangerous.

When Should You Call 911?

These “red flag” features indicate there may be a more sinister cause for chest discomfort, and necessitate an emergency call:

  • The pain is worse than any other pain you have felt before.
  • You are feeling breathless.
  • You are feeling sweaty or generally unwell.
  • The pain is radiating to your left chest, shoulder or jaw.
  • You feel lightheaded.
  • You have a history of heart problems.
  • The pain is getting worse.
  • The pain occurred following strenuous exercises.
  • You are coughing up blood.
  • You have a fever.


By: Miss Cherry May Timbol – Independent Reporter

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