Difference between Heartburn and Heart attack

Heartburn and heart attack are both medical conditions with one being potentially fatal and the other being mild. Their symptoms are so similar that even the most experienced doctors find it hard to tell them apart sometimes.  Let’s look at some of the differences between these two conditions.


Heartburn vs Heart Attack
Gastroesophageal reflux barium X-ray

Heartburn is a burning feeling or sensation around the chest area, throat and neck. The feeling gets worse when one sits or lies down. This burning sensation is caused by the hydrochloric acid in the stomach leaking into the esophagus, causing inflammation.  Heartburn may extend into the gastro-esophageal area. Diagnosis is based on the individual history of heartburn and related symptoms. The esophagus is also assessed for any damage in severe cases and the healing progress monitored.

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 happens as a result of the heart muscle failing to get enough oxygenated blood due to blockage of the flow of blood that carries oxygen to the heart. If the flow of oxygenated blood is not restored in time, the affected section of the heart muscle gradually starts to die.

Comparison Chart

Heartburn Heart attack
Caused by hydrochloric acid leaking out of the stomach into the esophagus Caused by heart failure
Simple diagnostic procedures Complex diagnostic procedures
Not life threatening Life threatening

Heartburn vs Heart Attack

What is the difference between heartburn and heart attack? We can differentiate between heartburn and heart attack by their causes, diagnostic procedures and severity of the situation.

  • Heartburn is caused by hydrochloric acid in the stomach leaking into the esophagus and causing inflammation, whereas heart attack is usually caused by coronary arteries failing to supply the heart muscles with oxygenated blood which leads to the heart failure and hence heart attack.
  • Heartburn is inflammation in the food tract. In most cases, simple diagnostic procedures are carried out to assess the damage caused to the esophagus. Heart attack, on the other hand, may require complex diagnostic procedures to determine and ascertain the cause. This requires experienced medical personnel and elaborate procedures such as performing an electrocardiogram.
  • Heartburn is not life threatening since it is just inflammation that heals well after diagnosis and treatment. It is a simple health condition that is treatable quickly with medication, or over a few days. Heart attack is a life threatening condition and can be fatal if not taken seriously. A heart attack is one of the leading causes of death as it can lead to death in a very short time.

Symptoms comparison

Here are the common symptoms of heartburn and heart attack.

Heartburn Heart attack
Burning sensation in the chest Discomfort in the chest area that lasts longer than a few minutes
Sour taste at the back of the throat Shortness of breath
Feeling of food stuck in the throat Changes in heart rhythm
Pain that gets worse when bending or lying down Nausea, abdominal pain, heartburn or nausea
Lightheadedness or dizziness
Breaking out in a cold sweat

Please note that not all of these symptoms manifest themselves in the same way in every individual with either heart attack or heartburn. Note also 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.


Here is a short video that talks about the difference between heartburn and heart attack to help you differentiate between the two: