Heartburn or Heart Attack – Which One Is It?

Heartburn or Heart Attack - Which One Is It?

What is the difference between the pain of heartburn (acid reflux) and the pain of a heart attack (or a heart ‘event’, as it is now called)? Recently I had a reason to ask this very question. This is probably a very common question. It is a very important question – especially if you are the one that needs an answer – and fast!

Well, through a face to face conversation with some wonderful Paramedics and a helpful meeting with a lovely young female Doctor – I sort of understand the difference. The key phrase here is ‘sort of’. Make no mistake – it is a very fine grey line between heartburn symptoms and heart event symptoms, which makes it nearly impossible for you or I to evaluate (unless you are a medical doctor).

In fact, I totally agree with what the medical professionals indicated to me: Don’t trivialize it or ignore it! When it comes to chest pain of any kind seek medical advice quickly! Period! Don’t rely on what you think you know about it. Why? Three reasons:

  • Because not every heart event (read: heart attack or other serious issue) presents itself in the same way for every person. The symptoms are slightly different for women than for men.
  • Heartburn or acid reflux also has many ways of presenting, depending upon the person.
  • There are a couple of medical tests that will confirm for certain whether you have had a heart event or not, and those tests are currently only available at a hospital. There is no other way to tell for sure if it is heartburn or a heart event.

The medical professionals take chest pain very seriously, and they treat you like you just did the smartest thing you could ever have done by calling them or by going to the hospital. They are happy to help you! The questions that they ask you, your vital statistics, your family health history, your overall health status, and the medical tests will all tell the physician whether you have risk factors for heart events. Once you have had the required tests and the results are in, the physician will know for certain whether the issue is a heart problem or not. He or she will then be able to guide you on what your next steps should be.

My unexpected meetings with the medical personnel had a happy ending for me. All is well, I learned a lot and I am thankful that I do not have any risk factors for heart events. I was cautioned that it doesn’t mean a heart event can never happen to me, it just means I am considered low risk and that makes it less likely. And I am now much more aware of what to do if it ever happens again.

I admit this is not my usual type of informational blog about an interesting food or a health issue or a recipe, but it is one that I felt compelled to write. Here’s why:

  • It is my hope that this information could help someone, perhaps even save a life.
  • It seems like this is a very common issue, based on the fact that during the five hours I was at the hospital there were at least 3 other women there with exactly the same problem. And, thankfully, as far as I could tell – none of them were heart events.

If there is only one takeaway from this blog post – please let it be this:

  • Chest pain of any kind should never be ignored or self-diagnosed! If you experience chest pain – don’t wait – call 811 (or your local Health Link) OR 911 Emergency or have someone take you immediately to the nearest Hospital Emergency Room for evaluation and/or treatment. It could save your life!

Enough said!


Info Resources:

The College of Family Physicians of Canada

The Mayo Clinic 


Copyright © 2015 Cathy Ormon – All Rights Reserved