Is It Indigestion or Heart Attack?

Knowing the difference is especially important for women

Woman holding her stomach in pain.  Is it indigestion or a heart attack?

Knowing the difference is especially important for women

You’re relaxing at home after a delicious meal, and you notice that you don’t feel quite right. You seem to have an upset stomach, with a burning sensation right below your breastbone. Is it just indigestion, or are these warning signs of a heart attack?


Though women have classic heart attack symptoms, such as severe chest pressure and pain that radiates down the arm, women can also present with more subtle symptoms that can be easily confused with common ailments, according to Kiyon Chung, MD, a Scripps cardiologist.


Subtle symptoms may include indigestion, which is a feeling of mild discomfort or fullness in the upper abdomen often accompanied by burning or heat.

Women and heart disease

Heart disease is the number one killer of women in the United States, surpassing cancer and all other medical conditions.


Because heart attack symptoms can often be subtle in women, many don’t even realize they’re experiencing a heart attack, says Dr. Chung. As a result, many miss the chance to seek immediate, life-saving medical attention. Many are not able to benefit from critical procedures, such as angioplasty and stenting, which can stop damage to the heart.


All women should become familiar with both the classic, recognizable signs of heart attack, as well as the less obvious warning signs.

Symptoms of a heart attack

Both men and women may experience the following symptoms of a heart attack:


  • Crushing pain or pressure in the center of the chest
  • Pain or tightness that spreads to the back, neck, shoulder, jaw, or arms
  • Severe shortness of breath


Women may also experience one or more of the following symptoms of heart attack:


  • Unusual fatigue
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Weakness
  • Indigestion
  • Anxiety
  • Cold sweat
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea

When to call 911

If you think you are having a heart attack, call 9-1-1 immediately. Don’t brush off symptoms or wait to see if they get worse. The longer you delay treatment following the onset of symptoms, the greater the risk of damage to the heart — which could lead to serious medical conditions like congestive heart failure — and the greater the chance of death.