Chest discomfort is a common symptom in both heartburn and heart attack sufferers. The key is understanding the difference — and knowing when to get help, says Brent DeVries, DO, FACC, a cardiologist with ProMedica Physicians. Dr. DeVries recently received the following question.
Q: I’m a 58-year-old man and experience moderate heartburn about once a week. How do I tell the difference between regular heartburn and symptoms of a possible heart attack?
A: The first thing to address is what could be causing your heartburn. Possible causes include being overweight, lying down after eating or eating too much. All of them put excess pressure on the esophageal sphincter and keep digestive acid in your stomach from flowing back into your esophagus.
If none of these causes apply to you, then the pain you’re feeling could be a symptom of something else. While an array of minor conditions – such as acid reflux or muscle spasms – can cause chest pain, it’s very difficult to determine an exact cause. However, there are some major symptoms to watch out for. If you experience any of these symptoms, call 911:
- Pressure, heaviness, or tightening in the chest or below the breastbone.
- Chest pain accompanied by shortness of breath, sweating, dizziness, or vomiting.
- Pain – especially in the left arm – spreading to the neck, shoulders, back, and jaw.
- Extreme weakness or irregular heartbeats.