Chest on fire after devouring some afternoon tacos 🔥? Any random chest pain can put you on red alert for a heart attack. But it could just be that hot sauce giving you heartburn.

Still, heart attacks and heartburn can cause similar symptoms. Here’s how to tell the difference between these conditions.

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Even though these conditions are very different, they can feel oddly similar.

Symptoms that can pop up during heartburn or a heart attack include:

  • a burning sensation in your abdomen
  • pain or pressure in your chest
  • vomiting
  • nausea

More than 60 million Americans have heartburn at least once a month. It happens when stomach acid flows up into your esophagus.

Typical symptoms include:

  • burping
  • a fiery feeling in your throat
  • an acidic or sour taste in your mouth
  • a burning sensation in your chest or abdomen

Heart attacks (aka myocardial infarctions) can happen if one or more of your heart’s arteries become blocked. The blockage prevents blood and oxygen from reaching certain parts of the heart, which can be life threatening.

Cardiovascular disease is the leading global cause of death, according to the American Heart Association. So it’s VITAL you get medical help immediately if you experience symptoms.

The main symptoms of a heart attack to look out for are:

  • Chest pain. Heart attacks often cause discomfort in the left side or center of your chest. It might feel like squeezing, pressure, burning, or heaviness.
  • Pain in other areas. You might feel discomfort in one or both of your arms or shoulders. The pain can also radiate to your neck, jaw, or back.
  • Shortness of breath. You might have a hard time breathing when you experience chest pain. But shortness of breath can also occur before or after a heart attack.
  • Unexplained weakness. You might feel light-headed, faint, or dizzy.
  • Sweating 💦 . You might break out in a cold sweat before, during, or after a heart attack.

Heartburn and heart attacks aren’t one-size-fits-all conditions. Symptoms can vary from person to person. But there are some common warning signs to keep in mind.

SymptomHeartburn Heart attack
acid rising in your throat when you lie down
bloating
sour or acidic taste in your mouth
burping
connection between symptoms and food
cold sweats
shortness of breath
dizziness or lightheadedness
unexplained tiredness
fainting
pain or discomfort in your arms, shoulders, jaw, neck, or back
burning sensation in your chest
pressure or pain in your chest
nausea
vomiting

If you need another way to narrow down your or a loved one’s symptoms, asking these questions may be helpful.

1. When did you eat?

Heartburn usually hits with some relationship to food — either after eating or after a prolonged period of fasting. A heart attack could happen after eating or at any other time.

2. Any shortness of breath or sweating?

Acid reflux prob won’t cause a sudden sweat or make you lose your breath. But these can be symptoms of a heart attack.

3. Do you have radiating pain?

If you’re dealing with acid reflux, pain can move up your throat. During a heart attack, pain can radiate to your jaw, back, or arms.

No one wants to feel the burn. Here are some tips to prevent and treat acid reflux.

Take medication

Lots of people get relief from over-the-counter (OTC) heartburn meds.

You can try:

  • antacids like Tums, Rolaids, or Mylanta (Limit the use of these medications.)
  • H2-blockers like Zantac, Pepcid Complete, Axid AR, or Tagamet HB
  • proton pump inhibitors like Prilosec, Zegerid, or Prevacid 24HR

BTW, a doctor can prescribe a stronger med if OTC options don’t do the trick.

Switch up your diet

Certain foods can trigger a four-alarm fire in your throat. Common culprits include:

Don’t smoke

Smoking can increase your risk of lots of health issues, including heartburn and heart attacks. We know quitting can be tough, but it’s 10/10 worth it!

Don’t eat before bed

It’s easier for stomach acid to creep up your esophagus when you’re lying down. To avoid a heartburn wakeup call, don’t eat for at least 3 hours before you hit the hay.

Shoot for a moderate weight

Excess body weight can put extra pressure on your abdomen. This might lead to more moments of acid reflux.

Heart attacks can be a super scary experience. Here’s how to handle the situation like a pro:

  • Call 911. DO NOT ignore the symptoms. Ask a neighbor, friend, or family member to take you to the hospital if you can’t get an ambulance. Drive yourself only if there’s no other option.
  • Chew an aspirin. Aspirin prevents your blood from clotting, and chewing it can get it into your system faster than swallowing it whole. This could reduce a heart attack’s damage to your heart. (But don’t take aspirin if you’re allergic to it.)
  • Take nitroglycerin. Take this medication as you wait for emergency medical attention. Keep in mind that it has to be prescribed by a doctor.
  • Do CPR if the person is unconscious. Knowing CPR can REALLY come in clutch in emergency situations. It can keep a person’s blood flowing as you wait for EMS.
  • Use an automated external defibrillator (AED). This electronic device can kick-start a person’s heart. The device might be available in certain work environments or public spaces.

Panic attacks can cause heart attack-like feels. Anxiety attacks aren’t as severe but can also trigger physical symptoms.

If you have anxiety, you might experience:

  • nausea
  • sweating
  • difficulty breathing
  • rapid or irregular heart rate
  • lightheadedness or weakness
  • pressure or pain in your chest

A 2013 study suggests anxiety can increase the risk of heartburn (at least in women — the study didn’t include men). Some research also suggests anxiety disorders can contribute to heart disease.

Some great ways to keep the stress at bay are meditation, journaling, and exercise. You can also try to talk it out with a loved one or a mental health specialist.

Heartburn and heart attacks aren’t the only conditions that can cause chest pain. Here are some other issues to look out for:

  • Angina. This can happen if your heart doesn’t get enough oxygen-rich blood. It can feel like a heart attack.
  • Pleurisy. Inflamed lung or chest cavity tissue can result in chest pain and shortness of breath.
  • Gallbladder pain. Your gallbladder (basically the bile boss) releases digestive fluids your body uses to process fats. Gallbladder issues can result in abdominal, chest, arm, neck, or shoulder pain. You may also experience diarrhea, nausea, or vomiting.
  • Esophageal muscle spasm. Sudden muscle movement in your esophagus can lead to a tight or painful feeling in your chest.

Heartburn and heart attacks are two totally different conditions that can cause similar symptoms.

Heartburn can be annoying, but it’s rarely life threatening. You can usually prevent it by avoiding certain foods or making minor changes to your lifestyle. Heart attacks are another story.