Heartburn Symptoms

What does heartburn feel like?

Heartburn symptoms include the following:

  • A burning feeling in the chest just behind the breastbone (the sternum) that occurs after eating and lasts a few minutes to several hours
  • Chest pain, especially after bending over, lying down or eating
  • Burning in the throat -- or hot, sour, acidic, or salty-tasting fluid at the back of the throat
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Feeling of food "sticking" in the middle of the chest or throat

Usually, the presence of these symptoms is enough for a doctor to make the diagnosis of heartburn. However, if needed, your doctor may perform special tests to determine the severity of your problem or to monitor your treatment.

Is it heartburn or a heart attack?

Chest pain is one of the most common reasons for trips to the emergency room. While many of these patients are suffering from a heart attack, a life-threatening situation, some actually may be experiencing severe heartburn.

Often, the pain caused by a heart attack and during a severe heartburn episode is so difficult to distinguish that sophisticated medical testing is needed to determine whether or not you are having a heart attack. To complicate matters even more, the two problems have many of the same symptoms and occur in similar groups of people (older age, overweight, etc.).

Here are some possible differences between the two conditions.

Note: If you have any chest pain that lasts for more than a few minutes—or any warning signs of a heart attack—do not try to decide for yourself. Seek immediate medical attention.

Possible signs of heartburn
  • A sharp, burning sensation just below the breastbone or ribs
  • Pain generally does not radiate to the shoulders, neck, or arms, but it can.
  • Pain usually comes after meals, when lying on the back, when exercising, or when experiencing anxiety.
  • Symptoms usually respond quickly to antacids.
  • Symptoms are rarely accompanied by a cold sweat.
Possible signs of angina or heart attack
  • A feeling of fullness, tightness, or dull pressure or pain generally in the center of the chest
  • The feeling of a belt being tightened around your chest
  • Sudden chest pain or pressure that worsens
  • Dizziness
  • Pain may spread to the shoulders, neck, jaw, or arms.
  • Often responds quickly to nitroglycerin
  • Shortness of breath
  • Usually accompanied by a cold sweat
  • Lightheadedness (sometimes)

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This information is provided by the Cleveland Clinic and is not intended to replace the medical advice of your doctor or health care provider. Please consult your health care provider for advice about a specific medical condition. This document was last reviewed on: 3/1/2013...#9617