How to tell if you’re having a heart attack or just a heartburn?


The symptoms of indigestion and heart attack may overlap, and sometimes, so do their treatments.

Every 3 minutes someone in the UK is hit by a heart attack, and 30% are fatal, so the faster help is better. Recognizing the symptoms, or whether you are just suffering from indigestion, and knowing what to do, is thus very important.

What are the signs of a heart attack?

A heart attack is the death of heart muscle due to the loss of blood supply. When one of the arteries to the heart gets totally blocked, a heart attack occurs. This is because the part of the heart supplied by that artery is starved of oxygen-rich blood. And without medical help, the muscle is at risk of dying. However, you can save muscle through early treatment.

One of the most common signs of a heart attack is a severe, contracting, heavy pain in the chest. It’s typically a diffuse pain which starts from the center or left of the chest. Then, radiating out into one or sometimes both arms, or into the jaw.

However, researchers say that it’s not a pain which you could point at with one finger. Nor does it generally appear on its own, people having a heart attack often feel sick and might even vomit, feel sweaty or breathless. Some individuals say that they also experienced a feeling of fear or doom.

Could it be anything else?

As the pain during a heart attack cannot be exactly located and can be minor, it can be confused with other kinds of chest pain like indigestion or angina.

Angina is an initial warning sign. It shows that your arteries are narrowing. Its main symptom is chest pain. So, the first-time people experience it, they may think they’re having a heart attack.

According to researchers, angina starts on exertion but disappears rapidly with rest. If signs started when you were inactive, don’t decrease when you rest or don’t stop after you have used your typical angina treatment, call an ambulance.

Indigestion also has similar symptoms as that of a heart attack. Moreover, it may be the cause of chest pain, mostly if you’ve had a large or spicy meal in the hour before the start of symptoms. Even clinicians cannot always tell the difference without an EEG or a blood test.

Does everyone get the same heart attack symptoms?

About 10% of people get an unusual presentation where there is a chest pain but it’s not bad enough to instantly seek help. Particularly, this is more common in diabetics where sometimes the nerves can alter sensation so pain isn’t felt as intensely.

Those individuals who have had gradually developed heart disease also don’t always get intense pain. However, in case of a progressive narrowing of the arteries, your body will create new channels called collaterals. Blood will flow through these channels. During a heart attack, when that narrowed artery completely blocks, the collaterals still work, reducing your symptoms like chest pain.

According to a study, 30% of women had usual chest pain symptoms, and in many cases, it was more of an ache than a pain.

They had symptoms like weakness, nausea, shortness of breath, stomach upset or back pain. These are hard to detect as a heart attack. Extreme fatigue in the month before the attack was the most common symptom – if you find you can’t do regular tasks, consult a doctor immediately.



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Areeba Hussain
The author is a Medical Microbiologist and healthcare writer. She is a post-graduate of Medical Microbiology and Immunology. She covers all content on health and wellness including weight loss, nutrition, and general health.


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