Heart attack or acid reflux? How to differentiate the symptoms

Most people mistakenly confuse chest pain to be because of acidity or acid reflux, a recent study conducted by Mumbai’s Sion Hospital has revealed. This is one of the main reasons why heart attacks continue to be one of the biggest killers in India. According to World Health Organisation, Cardiovascular diseases claim 17.5 million lives a year globally.

The first one hour immediately after the attack is vital to ensure that the patient has a chance of surviving, if immediate medical care is provided. However, in most cases, patients are brought to the hospital after three hours of developing discomfort, and this is often too late. Hence, it is essential to identify between the two kinds of conditions, and head to a hospital if one experiences the symptoms of a heart attack, or has any doubt. 

This World Heart Day, we look at the differences between the symptoms of a heart attack and those of acid reflux:

Acid reflux symptoms:

While acidity or acid reflux can be extremely uncomfortable, it is not lethal. Here are the symptoms of acid reflux, which when spotted, can be treated early on:

Heart burn: A burning pain which starts from the upper abdomen and moves up to the middle abdomen and chest. It can also move into the throat and may worsen if you lie down, as acid escapes into the esophagus. It may happens post a heavy meal.

Regurgitation: A sensation of acid travelling up to your throat and mouth. This happens when the acid from the stomach goes back up into the lower esophagus, leading to a sour taste in the mouth.

Irritation in the vocal chords: This may occur if the acid escapes into the throat, irritating the vocal chords.

Hiccups that won’t go away for some time

Bloating: A feeling of fullness in the stomach

Dysphagia: A narrowing of the esophagus which creates a sensation of food being stuck in the mouth.  

Heart attack symptoms:

It is important to take note of any pain in the chest which lasts more than a few minutes, and spreads to other parts of the body. The symptoms of a heart attack are:

Chest pain: A tightening of the heart, pressure or pain, which may or may not be severe. This is usually centred on the breastbone, or slightly to the left. The pain may spread to the hands, neck, jaws or back.

Shortness of breath: While this may be a symptom of other conditions such as asthma, breathlessness  may also indicate heart attack, especially when combined with the chest pain.

Nausea: Indigestion or a feeling of wanting to throw up can also be a symptom of heart attack.

Sweating: Breaking out into a cold sweat, even if the weather is not too hot, can be a sign of a heart attack.  

Lightheadedness: A feeling of dizziness, lightheadedness, or unusual weakness may also be experienced during a heart attack.

Palpitations: A sudden increase in the heart beat rate may sometimes be accompanied by dizziness or fatigue. This can be a sign of arrhythmia, an abnormal or irregular heartbeat which may last for a longer time. This could be a symptom of a heart attack or stroke, and can be fatal if not treated. 

Anxiety: Many people who are having a heart attack complain of having feelings of anxiety and panic attacks, this could also be pointing to a heart attack. The anxiety attacks may lead to palpitations, breathlessness, severe chest pain, and other symptoms. 

However, there are times when heart attacks come with very mild symptoms, or hardly any - the patient may just have a feeling of anxiety and foreboding, along with palpitations. Hence, when in doubt it is necessary to get it immediately checked.