Chest pain–it makes you worry. And because the symptoms of a heart attack can be different in women, you wonder–am I having a heart attack? Or is it something like “heartburn”? Knowing the difference is critical. Let’s take a look at some of the differences in the type of pain you might experience.
If you think you are having symptoms of a heart attack (chest pain, shortness of breath, nausea, vomiting, pain in the arms, neck, or shoulders), call 911 and get to an emergency room.
Acid reflux, or heartburn, is a surge of stomach acid re-entering the esophagus; it is uncomfortable, but not deadly. It is usually accompanied by a burning sensation as the stomach acid comes into contact with the lining of the esophagus. It will often start lower in the abdomen and move up, and may be accompanied by the feeling of liquid in the throat, a feeling that you can’t swallow something, or small amounts of stomach acid in the back of the mouth. It can be triggered by several things such as lying down after eating, large meals, acidic foods, caffeine or alcohol. A final indication of acid reflux is that it is relieved by antacids–but don’t wait to find out if antacids can help if you really think you’re having a heart attack.
A heart attack can occur anytime and anywhere, regardless of whether you have eaten recently. It is generally accompanied by a feeling of constriction around the chest and sudden shortness of breath. It is often described as having an “elephant sitting on your chest.” Shooting chest pains may occur and will tend to spread outward from the center or left side of the chest. The pain may concentrate in the jaw or shoulders. There may also be dizziness and cold sweat and a loss of peripheral vision that results in a “black tunnel” effect to the victim.
Women often experience a heart attack differently than the “movie scenario” portrayed–someone clutching their chest and falling to the ground during a high-stress event. Often, women don’t experience the chest pain; they are more likely to have other symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, shortness of breath, breaking out in a cold sweat, or pain in the arms, neck, or shoulders.
Other conditions that can mimic a heart attack:
- Panic attack
- Blood clot in lung
What to Do
Treatment for a heart attack needs to begin as soon as possible; delays as little as fifteen minutes can be fatal. Many people find themselves unsure about whether to trouble either themselves or others with what might turn out to be a simple case of heartburn. Seek medical attention if you aren’t sure–it’s always better to be safe rather than sorry. Have someone drive you to the nearest emergency room.
The first step to saving someone, including yourself, from a heart attack is to know that it is happening. Learning how to tell the difference between heart attack and other conditions could make the ultimate difference to yourself or someone nearby. Always think “better safe than sorry” in any scenario that may involve a heart attack.