Heartburn or heart attack: When to worry

Severe heartburn and heart attack can be hard to tell apart. Understand how they typically differ, and learn when to get immediate help.

By Mayo Clinic Staff

You've just eaten a big meal and feel a burning sensation in your chest. Heartburn, right? Probably, but there's a chance the chest pain is caused by reduced blood flow to your heart (angina) or an actual heart attack.

How much do the symptoms of heartburn and heart attack overlap?

Heartburn, angina and heart attack may feel very much alike. Even experienced doctors can't always tell the difference from your medical history and a physical exam. That's why if you go to the emergency room because of chest pain, you'll immediately have tests to rule out a heart attack.

What's the best thing to do if you have chest pain and you're not sure what's causing it?

If you have persistent chest pain and you aren't sure it's heartburn, call 911.

Call your doctor if you had an episode of unexplained chest pain that went away within a few hours and you did not seek medical attention. Both heartburn and a developing heart attack can cause symptoms that subside after a while. The pain doesn't have to last a long time to be a warning sign.

Mar. 03, 2015 See more In-depth