WebMD BlogsFrom Our Archives

Is It Heart Pain or Just Heartburn?

Elizabeth Klodas, MD, FACC - Blogs
December 12, 2016
From the WebMD Archives

The signals our body sends us can be confusing. And if the signal is coming from your chest, the stakes are high – is it my heart or is it just heartburn?

First and foremost, here’s a good rule to follow: If in doubt, check it out. It’s always better to be safe than sorry.

That said, there are some clues that can help discriminate between heart pain and simple heartburn:

  1. Heart pain tends to be brought on by exertion or stress and is relieved with rest. Heartburn has no relationship to physical activity. Instead, it tends to be related to ingestion of food.
  2. Heart pain tends to occur in the context of risk factors for heart disease, including older age, family history of heart disease, history of high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol, and/or history of tobacco use. Heartburn has no relationship to heart disease risk factors.
  3. Heart pain tends to be progressive over time –it will take less and less activity or stress to prompt the pain. Heartburn tends to remain more random.
  4. Heart pain is unlikely to occur spontaneously in the middle of the night. Heartburn classically wakes people up at 2 to 3 in the morning.
  5. Heart pain may be accompanied by shortness of breath, sweating, and a sense of doom. Heartburn tends to be an isolated symptom.
  6. Heart pain does not respond to antacids. Heartburn often gets better with over-the-counter medication like Maalox or TUMS.
  7. Heart pain is unlikely to be felt below the rib cage. Heartburn can be felt in the abdomen.

But none of these are absolute, which is why it’s important to listen to your body – and your intuition. If you’re experiencing a new symptom in your chest, and especially if you have risk factors for heart disease, don’t ignore it. Contact your care provider and make an appointment to be checked out. And if you are experiencing chest pain or chest burning that is not going away – especially if it’s lasting more than 30 minutes – or if you have a sense that you need immediate care, head to the emergency room.

NOTE: if you have regularly occurring heartburn, see your healthcare provider.

WebMD Blog
© 2016 WebMD, LLC. All rights reserved.
About the Author
Elizabeth Klodas, MD, FACC

Elizabeth Klodas, MD, FACC, is a cardiologist and founder of Preventive Cardiology Consultants in Minneapolis. Her professional interests include noninvasive cardiac imaging and valvular heart disease, but her true passion is heart disease prevention.

Latest Blog Posts on WebMD

View all blog posts

Important: The opinions expressed in WebMD Blogs are solely those of the User, who may or may not have medical or scientific training. These opinions do not represent the opinions of WebMD. Blogs are not reviewed by a WebMD physician or any member of the WebMD editorial staff for accuracy, balance, objectivity, or any other reason except for compliance with our Terms and Conditions. Some of these opinions may contain information about treatments or uses of drug products that have not been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. WebMD does not endorse any specific product, service or treatment.

Do not consider WebMD Blogs as medical advice. Never delay or disregard seeking professional medical advice from your doctor or other qualified healthcare provider because of something you have read on WebMD. You should always speak with your doctor before you start, stop, or change any prescribed part of your care plan or treatment. WebMD understands that reading individual, real-life experiences can be a helpful resource, but it is never a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment from a qualified health care provider. If you think you may have a medical emergency, call your doctor or dial 911 immediately.

Read More