What Are the Symptoms of Heartburn?

What Does Heartburn Feel Like?

If you've got a burning feeling in your chest just behind your breastbone that starts after you eat, it might be heartburn. The symptoms could last from a few minutes to several hours.

Heartburn begins when stomach acid splashes up into your esophagus, a tube that connects the back of your throat and stomach. Besides the burning feeling in your chest, you may also get:

  • Chest pain, especially after you bend over, lie down, or eat
  • Burning at the back of your throat
  • Fluid at the back of your throat that tastes hot, sour, acidic, or salty
  • Long-term cough, sore throat, or hoarseness

Telling your doctor about these symptoms is usually all they need to make a diagnosis of heartburn. But they may ask you to take special tests to find out how severe the problem is or to keep an eye on your treatment.

Is It Heartburn or a Heart Attack?

Chest pain is one of the most common reasons to go to the emergency room. While many of these people are having a heart attack, some folks may have severe heartburn.

Often, the pain from a heart attack and a severe heartburn episode is so hard to tell apart that doctors need sophisticated tests to figure out what's going on.

To complicate things even more, heartburn and heart attacks have many of the same symptoms and happen in similar types of people, such as those who are older or overweight.

Signs more typical of heartburn include:

  • You have a sharp, burning feeling just below your breastbone or ribs.
  • Pain generally doesn't spread to your shoulders, neck, or arms, but it can.
  • Pain usually comes after meals, when you lie on your back, when you exercise, or when you have anxiety.
  • Symptoms usually get better quickly after taking an antacid.
  • You rarely get a cold sweat or shortness of breath along with your other symptoms.

When to Call 911

If you have pain in your chest that's not going away and you're not sure whether it's heartburn or a heart attack, call 911.

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But don't forget, the symptoms of heart attack and heartburn can sometimes go away after a while. So always call your doctor if you had pain in your chest and you're not sure why -- even if it stopped.

Also, call 911 if you have symptoms that are more typical of a heart attack or angina (severe chest pain from heart problems), such as:

  • Feeling of fullness, tightness, or dull pressure or pain generally in the center of your chest
  • Feeling like a belt is being tightened around your chest
  • Sudden chest pain or pressure that gets worse
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness
  • Pain that spreads to your shoulders, neck, jaw, or arms
  • Pain that gets better quickly after taking nitroglycerin
  • Shortness of breath
  • Cold sweat along with other symptoms

If you have any pain that lasts for more than a few minutes or any warning signs of a heart attack, get medical help right away. Also get emergency help if you're confused at all about whether your symptoms are from a heartburn or a heart attack.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by David T. Derrer, MD on October 26, 2015

Sources

SOURCES: 

International Foundation for Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders, Inc. 

American Association of Family Physicians. 

American Gastroenterological Association. 

DeVault, K. and Castell, D. American Journal of Gastroenterology, 2005.

Pettit, M. Pharmacy World and Science, December 2005.

Talley, N. and Vakil, N. American Journal of Gastroenterology, October 2005.

Mayo Clinic: "Heartburn or heart attack: When to worry."

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