Is It Indigestion or Heart Attack?

How to tell if your symptoms need immediate attention

Indigestion and heart attack can have similar symptoms. Scripps Health offers tips on how to tell the difference and when to see medical help.

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?

Unlike men, who typically have classic heart attack symptoms like severe chest pressure and pain that radiates down the arm, women often have much more subtle symptoms that can be easily confused with common ailments, according to Scripps cardiologist Kiyon Chung, MD. Indigestion, which is a feeling of mild discomfort or fullness in the upper abdomen often accompanied by burning or heat, is just one example; others include stress, fatigue and nausea.

Because the symptoms are often subtle, many women don’t even realize they’re experiencing a heart attack, says Dr. Chung. As a result, they miss the opportunity to seek immediate, life-saving medical attention. In fact, heart disease has become the number one killer of women in San Diego County, surpassing cancer and all other medical conditions. Women are much more likely to present later during their heart attacks, and as a result, benefit less from critical procedures such as angioplasty and stenting which can stop the 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

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.