Indigestion or Heart Attack – How to Tell The Difference?

Indigestion or Heart Attack

Indigestion or heart attack? Sometimes the answer is not very clear cut.

Indigestion symptoms can vary dramatically from person to person and, the answer to what is indigestion is rather vague as that the common tummy trouble can often be a sign of an underlying health condition or problem. Mild cases can present as little more than an uncomfortable feeling of fullness either during a meal or immediately following. Some experience stomach bloating and gassiness, while others may encounter an acidic taste in their mouth, nausea or even vomiting. For some, the condition (also known as dyspepsia) can cause feelings of burning between the breastbone and the belly button and mimic the symptoms of acid reflux. But, often the most alarming of these symptoms is indigestion pain which is what can lead to confusion as to whether abdominal discomfort is a result of indigestion or heart attack symptoms.

Indigestion pain can also vary from person to person, just like the symptoms of the condition. It is typically mild to moderate and can occur anywhere in the abdomen, but normally between the breast bone and the navel, according to Mayo Clinic. Severe indigestion can cause major pain, which may seem abnormal or distinctly different from previous occurrences. Because the pain can occur higher in the abdomen, it may be mistaken for chest pains that can be associated with the onset of a heart attack or another condition of the heart, such as angina. One common cause of indigestion pain is acid reflux.

Acid reflux can create symptoms that can mimic other conditions. The brain has a hard time identifying where abdominal pain is coming from and what is causing it because the nerves in that area are just not as specific as other parts of the body. So, whether from the stomach or from the chest, the brain can mix up these pain signals which can cause panic. Acid reflux can further exacerbate the matter because the pain resulting from it (or the chronic condition known as GERD) can send pain straight up into the chest area, furthering confusion between indigestion or heart attack symptoms. Acid reflux causes are plentiful but include eating large meals, smoking, alcohol and eating too quickly. These of course are all also precursors to indigestion, another indicator of how common gastrological complaints are all too related.

Over a quarter of a million cases of chest pain unrelated to cardiac problems occur in the U.S. each year, and studies show that a shockingly large percentage of those are associated with GERD. The reason why differentiating between tummy troubles like indigestion or heart attack symptoms is so difficult is because there is just no single way to precisely determine what the cause of the abdominal pain is. But, there are some clues that can help signal serious trouble. When the heart is the source of the pain, some symptoms are more likely to be present than others. Tightness in the chest is common and so is a burning sensation or a feeling of pressure. The pain can also be present in other areas aside from the abdomen and spread to locations like the neck and jaw or the arm. Conversely, when digestive woes are to blame, it is not uncommon for the pain to be sharp and change with changes in position. So, bending over and noticing a change in pain location or severity can be a helpful clue.

Another hint to differentiate between indigestion or heart attack symptoms is duration. In most cases, gastrointestinal troubles will last for a longer time than those associated with a cardiac crisis. For instance, tummy troubles like those that can come as a result of foods that cause acid reflux can last for quite awhile, and for hours in many cases. On the other hand, problems with the heart, such as angina, typically last only minutes.

It is also important to evaluate risk factors in determining whether suspicious pain is being caused from indigestion or heart attack symptoms. Risk factors like smoking and obesity in conjunction with sudden symptoms should certainly be considered as telling. And, those that have high cholesterol or diabetes should definitely be more aware of the risk of heart conditions and take sudden symptoms seriously. Family history also plays a role, and anyone with any of these risk factors should be more cautious about abdominal pain, especially if it is unusual.

Experts agree that it is better to be safe than sorry when it comes to any sort of pain that presents itself as possibly being related to the heart. Since there is no bulletproof way to tell the difference between gastrointestinal troubles or a cardiac medical emergency, it is much better to err on the side of caution and seek medical attention when in doubt. And, as Dr. Prediman K. Shah, M.D. explains in an article from, when it comes to symptoms that could be a heart attack, overreaction is better than under reaction.