Indigestion and heart attack are related because many times patients who think they are having heartburn or digestive upset are actually suffering from a heart attack. Many of the sensations and symptoms associated with indigestion are also common with cardiac distress. This means that sometimes heart attack symptoms go unnoticed or underreported by the patient because he believes he is suffering from indigestion, often resulting in a longer recovery or even death. In some cases, physicians may also have a hard time distinguishing between both conditions in patients who are complaining of generalized chest pain.
The reason many people can confuse the symptoms of indigestion with a heart attack is because both syndromes occur in close proximity of one another. The lower esophagus and upper stomach sit just above and below the heart muscle. Early heart attack symptoms are very similar to the burning sensation, uneasiness, and tightness associated with indigestion. In fact, many patients have gone in to the emergency room believing they were having a heart attack, only to be told they were suffering from trapped intestinal gas that had risen into the upper digestive tract.
Although sometimes subtle, there are some differences between indigestion and heart attack symptoms. Indigestion should generally be limited to the chest and stomach area, while a true heart attack may begin there and radiate into the left arm or shoulder. If severe vomiting, nausea, or shortness of breath are present, it should be assumed that the patient is not suffering from indigestion and medical treatment should be sought.
While many would believe that a heart attack is much more painful than indigestion, this is not always the case. In some instances, intestinal gas or stomach acid can cause severe pain in the chest cavity that can easily be confused with a heart attack. Patients have described the sensations as stabbing, aching, or pulsing. This why sometimes a doctor cannot tell the difference between indigestion and heart attack until further testing is completed.
As a general rule of thumb, one may be able to tell the difference between indigestion and heart attack by trying a few basic pain relief tactics. For instance, pain from indigestion may be alleviated by changing positions to a more upright posture, while a heart attack would not be affected. Over the counter medications, like antacids, may also help alleviate symptoms of indigestion but would have no effect on heart attack symptoms.