In addition to chest pain, a heart attack may cause general symptoms such as breathlessness or sweating, while heartburn may occur with acid reflux, bloating, and belching.

Anyone who is worried about chest pain should not wait to get urgent medical care. They should call for an ambulance straight away, especially if the pain is unexplained, sudden, or severe.

Keep reading to learn more about the differences between a heart attack and heartburn, including the symptoms and treatment options.

Is it a heart attack?

Heart attacks occur when there is a lack of blood supply to the heart. Symptoms include:

  • chest pain, pressure, or tightness
  • pain that may spread to arms, neck, jaw, or back
  • nausea and vomiting
  • sweaty or clammy skin
  • heartburn or indigestion
  • shortness of breath
  • coughing or wheezing
  • lightheadedness or dizziness
  • anxiety that can feel similar to a panic attack

If someone has these symptoms:

  1. Dial 911 or the number of the nearest emergency department.
  2. Stay with them until the emergency services arrive.

If a person stops breathing before emergency services arrive, perform manual chest compressions:

  1. Lock fingers together and place the base of hands in the center of the chest.
  2. Position shoulders over hands and lock elbows.
  3. Press hard and fast, at a rate of 100 to 120 compressions per minute, to a depth of 2 inches.
  4. Continue these movements until the person starts to breathe or move.
  5. If needed, swap over with someone else without pausing compressions.

Use an automated external defibrillator (AED) available in many public places:

  1. An AED provides a shock that may restart the heart.
  2. Follow the instructions on the defibrillator or listen to the guided instructions.
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A heart attack is an event caused by disease in the coronary arteries. These blood vessels supply blood to the heart, keeping it alive with energy and oxygen.

When coronary artery disease causes a loss of blood supply to part of the heart muscle, this is a heart attack.

A heart attack can lead to the heart stopping. This is called a cardiac arrest. Someone with cardiac arrest will not be responsive and will have no pulse.

Doctors also use the term “acute coronary syndrome” or ACS to talk about heart attack and other serious heart problems, such as unstable angina.

Symptoms of a heart attack

The symptoms of a heart attack can be mild or severe. Some people experience no symptoms at all.

The main symptoms of a heart attack include:

Heart attack can also come with other symptoms, such as:

  • feeling sick or nauseous
  • vomiting
  • feeling very tired or lacking in energy

Anyone can have these other symptoms, but females are more likely to experience them.

Learn more about heart attacks in females.

Heartburn is a symptom, not a disease. It is the sensation, usually of burning pain, caused by acid reflux. Acid reflux is the contents of the stomach splashing back up into the food pipe.

Heartburn is not related to the heart in any way. The name refers to where the symptoms originate, in the chest. But the cause is in the stomach and esophagus, not the heart.

Symptoms of heartburn

The symptoms of heartburn can include:

  • burning sensation in the chest
  • pain in the chest
  • bloating and discomfort
  • belching
  • nausea

The acid can also reach higher up, possibly even as far as the back of the mouth. If this occurs, a person may have a sore throat or bad breath.

It can sometimes be difficult to know if symptoms are due to a heart attack or heartburn based on symptoms alone. Some of the differences between them include:

  • heartburn generally does not cause sweating, dizziness, or fatigue
  • heartburn can be worse when lying down or after eating
  • heart attacks do not cause bloating or belching

People should not try to diagnose themselves. If there is any chance they could be having a heart attack, they should seek help.

Anyone with potential heart attack symptoms should call 911 immediately.

People who experience acid reflux should make an appointment to see a doctor if:

These could be signs of another condition that requires treatment, such as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) or a peptic ulcer.

Tests for heart attack may include:

  • Electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG): This traces the beat and rhythm of the heart by measuring its electrical activity moving from the top to the bottom of the heart.
  • Blood tests: These tests look for certain proteins in the blood that the heart can release during a heart attack, such as troponin.
  • Stress testing: This involves monitoring the heart, breathing, and symptoms during exercise on a treadmill.
  • Echocardiography: This involves using ultrasound to visualize the heart.
  • Medical imaging: An X-ray or CT scan allows doctors to see the heart and test its function. Sometimes they may inject a dye into the blood to assess blood flow. This is known as angiography.

Doctors may be able to make a diagnosis of heartburn based on a person’s symptoms and medical history. They can also rule out other conditions.

If the heartburn is frequent, they may suggest other tests for conditions such as GERD.

Immediate treatment may include:

  • aspirin or other medications to stop the blood from clotting
  • nitroglycerin to improve blood flow
  • drugs that break up blood clots
  • oxygen therapy

Emergency doctors will then determine how to proceed. This may involve medical procedures, such as:

Percutaneous coronary intervention

During this procedure, a doctor will mechanically open up arteries by threading a small catheter through a blood vessel. They will guide the catheter to the heart, using dye to highlight any blockages. They will then use a balloon to widen the narrowed artery.


During the percutaneous coronary intervention, doctors may leave a mesh tube, known as a stent, in place to keep the vessel open.

To prevent complications, such as blood clotting, some people may need to take medications alongside having the stent.

Coronary artery bypass grafting

Surgery for a heart attack can include coronary artery bypass grafting. Here, a surgeon grafts on a new blood vessel from another part of the body to bypass the blocked coronary artery.

Heart-healthy lifestyle

People who have experienced a heart attack may need to make long-term changes to their diet or lifestyle to reduce their risk of future problems. This could include:

After heart attack treatment, some may also benefit from therapies to help with their recovery, such as cardiac rehabilitation. This is a program with supervision from health professionals that teaches people how to gradually increase physical activity safely.

Because heartburn is a symptom, rather than a condition in itself, the treatment depends on the underlying cause.

For symptom relief, people with occasional or mild heartburn may find it helps to take antacids. These neutralize stomach acid and reduce symptoms.

There are also diet and lifestyle changes that may reduce heartburn, such as:

  • eating smaller, more frequent meals
  • not lying down after eating
  • avoiding any specific trigger foods, such as caffeine, alcohol, or spicy foods
  • quitting smoking, if relevant
  • maintaining a moderate weight

People with frequent heartburn may have GERD or another condition. The treatments in this case can vary, but may involve other types of medication. In some cases, people with GERD require surgery.

Heart attacks and heartburn share some of the same symptoms. Both can cause chest pain or discomfort, as well as nausea.

However, heart attacks can also cause pain in the arm, shoulders, or jaw, as well as sweating, dizziness, and shortness of breath. In contrast, heartburn can cause bloating or belching.

Anyone with symptoms of a potential heart attack must seek immediate medical help. For heartburn, over-the-counter antacids may help. Diet and lifestyle changes may also reduce the symptoms.