Difference between Chest Pain and Heart Attack

Chest pain and heart attack are terms that are used to indicate health problem(s) in or areas around the chest. Sometimes chest pains and heart attack can be caused by the same health problem, only that one comes first. The symptoms can easily be confused due to the similarities. For this reason one should seek urgent medical advice from a professional health provider as soon as any alarming discomfort is experienced around the chest.


Chest pain vs Heart attack
Angina pectoris

Chest pain is discomfort that occurs anywhere between the upper abdomen and the neck. Chest pain can be sharp, aching, squeezing, or even produce a burning sensation, depending on the cause. It can be caused by a number of health problems in the lungs, ribs, muscles, esophagus, angina pectoris, etc. It is very important to see a doctor for evaluation if you feel chest pain since some of the underlying causes can be life threatening.

Heart attack
Heart attack anatomy

Heart attack is the failure of the heart to function normally due to some part or the whole heart failing. This is usually caused by damage to the heart through injury or clot in the blood vessels (coronary artery) that supply the heart with oxygen rich blood. This condition is referred to as atherosclerotic plaque. Diagnosis is carried out by checking the heart rate and blood pressure of the patient, and performing an electrocardiogram. The electrocardiogram is used to check for damage and blockage in coronary arteries. Blood samples are also taken for further analysis.

Comparison Chart

Chest pain Heart attack
Can be mild or severe Usually severe
Can be caused by a number of factors Only caused by heart failure or part of the heart failing

Chest pain vs Heart attack

What is the difference between chest pain and heart attack? We can differentiate between chest pain and heart attack by their causes, diagnostic procedures and treatment, as well as their severity.

  • The severity of chest pain depends on the underlying cause. The condition can be severe if the pain is a result of a heart attack. Minor injuries to the ribs usually only cause mild chest pains. A heart attack is a form of chest pain. It is a life threatening condition since one’s life is often at stake. So if you are in doubt, better call the doctor.
  • While chest pain can be caused by several health problems including heartburn, lung complications and many more, a heart attack is usually caused by the failure of the coronary arteries to supply the heart muscles with oxygenated blood, leading to the heart failure and hence heart attack.


Here are the common symptoms of heart attack.

Chest pain Heart attack
Symptoms can vary depending on the cause of chest pain Discomfort in the chest area that lasts longer than a few minutes
Shortness of breath
Changes in heart rhythm
Nausea, abdominal pain, heartburn or nausea
Lightheadedness or dizziness
Cold sweats


Please note that the information given above is not meant for self treatment, nor is it a doctor’s or expert’s view and is therefore not meant for treatment purposes.


For more information, here is a TV show video in which a doctor talks about chest pain and heart attack: