Heart Attack vs Indigestion Symptoms

Instructor: Adrianne Baron

Adrianne has taught high school and college biology and has a master's degree in cancer biology.

We are going to look at the signs and symptoms that are commonly associated with both indigestion and heart attacks. This lesson will also describe the symptoms that occur just with a heart attack and not indigestion.

Indigestion or Something Worse?

You're feeling awful... the pain is borderline unbearable, and you aren't sure exactly what is going on. This has happened before, and it turned out to be a case of really bad gas. You were lucky. This time it could be something way more serious.

Is it indigestion or something worse?
collage of question marks

You are debating whether or not to go to the ER. It could be expensive, and you would feel quite silly if it is just another bad case of gas or something similar. But, how do you know the difference? After all, this decision isn't one you can afford to get wrong. You might decide not to go to the ER, and then realize you were 'dead wrong' about this decision!

Symptoms of Indigestion

The condition most people refer to as gas is actually indigestion. As the name indicates, this is when food is not properly digested. There are many symptoms that occur in the body during indigestion. The first is one that people normally refer to as gas. The gas may make its way out in the form of burping, or passing gas from the other end known as flatulence. The gas may also sit in the stomach which can make you feel full even when you've eaten little or not at all.

Acid reflux cases heartburn which is a common symptom of indigestion
Diagram of acid reflux

The other occurrence that happens during the process of indigestion is the build-up of stomach acid. This is the fluid that your stomach uses to digest foods. Having too much stomach acid can cause other symptoms to occur such as burning pain in the stomach. The stomach acid will often begin to move backwards in the digestive tract through the esophagus, known as acid reflux. This causes heartburn, which is a burning sensation in the chest. When the acid reaches the point of the throat and mouth, then you may notice an acidic taste in the mouth.

Food may end up sitting in the stomach or also moving back into the esophagus when it is not digested properly. This may cause nausea or vomiting if the food moves backwards far enough.

Symptoms of a Heart Attack

On the other hand, you may be having more than just these classic indigestion symptoms. Some of these symptoms are also common with many other conditions or diseases, such as a myocardial infarction, which most people refer to as a heart attack.

Mycocardial infarction is a loss of oxygenated blood supply to the heart muscle
Diagram of a heart attack

The average person immediately thinks 'chest pain' only when they hear heart attack. However, there are many other symptoms that can and usually do appear. A person having a heart attack may experience nausea, vomiting, stomach and chest pain like somebody with indigestion. It happens for very different reasons though. In the case of a heart attack, the body shuts down the digestive system and that's what causes the nausea, vomiting and stomach pain. The chest pain is due to the tissues of the heart muscle dying.

Other key symptoms of a heart attack are neck, jaw, shoulder and back pain. This pain is due to the nerve that sends and receives signals from the heart, neck, jaw, shoulder and back. As pain is detected in the heart, it gets dispersed along other areas served by the same nerve.

There are usually symptoms of a heart attack prior to it occurring. People that have heart attacks often complain of feeling very fatigued or tired in the days or weeks leading up to it, even though they didn't miss any sleep. This symptom occurs because of the gradual decrease in oxygenated blood to the body and brain over time. Remember, the heart is responsible for getting oxygenated blood to the body. When it isn't functioning optimally, the entire body feels the effects.

The lack of normal oxygen supply to the brain during a heart attack results in dizziness, fainting, and headaches. Of course, this set of symptoms is also pretty vague and occurs with many other conditions.

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