Is It Heartburn or Heart Attack? How to Handle Similar Symptoms

Dec 19 • 2016

The symptoms of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), sometimes referred to as heartburn, and a heart attack are extremely similar. Unfortunately, mistaking the two can be deadly. This makes knowing the difference between heartburn and a heart attack necessary knowledge. Additionally, knowing how to address the on-set of symptoms for either condition could be life-saving.

Symptoms of a Heart Attack

Many people think only of chest pain when it comes to symptoms of a heart attack, but the truth is there are other warning signs to be aware of. “Pressure radiating into the jaws or arms, usually paired with cold sweats, nausea and vomiting are all common symptoms of heart attacks,” says Sherri DeLashmit, Director of Cardiovascular Services at Baptist Memorial Hospital – North Mississippi. “Pain can radiate through the back as well. [When it comes to heart attack symptoms] in women, it may just be a feeling of impending doom.”

Symptoms of GERD

Heartburn itself is a symptom of GERD, but this is not the only sign that is similar to a heart attack. In fact, much of what people feel as a result of GERD and acid reflux disease is identical to symptoms from cardiac problems. “Many patients suffering from cardiac disease describe the same burning chest pain that we think of with reflux,” explains Dr. William Dengler. “Heartburn is often accompanied by a fullness or pressure sensation within the chest. GERD or reflux disease is the most common cause of this, but the exact same symptoms can occur in patients suffering from heart problems.”

Other symptoms of GERD include:

  • Chest pain
  • Cough
  • Dental erosions
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Changes to voice

What You Can Do When Symptoms Are Present

Because there aren’t a lot of differences between heartburn and heart attack, it’s important to be proactive the moment you notice an issue. “It’s imperative that you have your heart evaluated for any life threatening conditions,” says Paula Bland, Nurse Coordinator at the Baptist Heartburn Treatment Center. “It is difficult to distinguish what the source of your symptoms are based on them alone. For this reason, Baptist offers state of the art testing to help patients and physicians determine the problem.  We have an array of studies to determine if there are any problems with your heart as well as testing to determine if you have problems with your esophagus or stomach.”

How Baptist Can Help

At Baptist Memorial Health Care, we know that assuming the symptoms you’re experiencing are tied to GERD can be life-threatening if wrong. For this reason, we offer minimally invasive cardiac diagnostics to determine if the heart is the problem or not. “We have an array of studies to determine if there are any problems with your heart, as well as testing to determine if you have problems with your esophagus or stomach,” says Bland.

“Baptist North Mississippi has 24-hour-a-day emergency heart attack care,” says DeLashmit. “The cath lab team [members] are experts at treating heart attacks, recently receiving national awards for the rapid care we provide. Many times we’re able to stop a heart attack in its tracks.”

If your heart isn’t the problem, we also have advanced testing options to assess the presence and severity of reflux disease, including:

  • High Resolution Esophageal Manometry to diagnose esophageal muscle problems
  • pH testing to diagnose GERD
  • EGD to look at tissues and rule out serious issues, such as esophageal cancer
  • Free consultations with Heartburn Treatment Nurse Coordinators to discuss GERD, diagnostics, and possible treatment options

If you or a loved one is experiencing any of these symptoms, visit a Baptist hospital immediately to ensure that you are not suffering from a heart attack. Once you have confirmed that GERD or reflux disease is the issue, make an appointment with a specialist at our Heartburn Treatment Center.