Summer 2005
Ask The Experts

I've read that the symptoms of a heart attack are similar to symptoms of indigestion. I've never had a heart attack or indigestion: How can I tell the difference between the two so I'll know if I need to come to the Chest Pain Center?

Michael Werdmann, MD, Chairman of Emergency Medicine; and Stuart Zarich, MD, Chief of Cardiology, respond:

You're right: Heart attack symptoms often mimic indigestion. The symptoms for both can include chest pain—not necessarily severe—and nausea. But you can't tell the difference yourself. If the discomfort in your chest lasts longer than two minutes; if it keeps getting worse; if you find yourself wondering,"Is this a heart attack?"… don't ignore your symptoms, and don't try to persuade yourself that it's not serious. Call an ambulance to take you to the nearest Chest Pain Center.

Because the only way to be sure is to have an EKG (an electrocardiogram, a simple, painless way to analyze your heart beat). This, and other tests, can tell the experts in the Chest Pain Center whether you are having, or have had, a heart attack. If it is a heart attack, the experts can immediately take life-saving steps to stop it in its tracks.

If you're lucky, it will just be indigestion, and you'll go home the same day. If not, you'll be glad you took your symptoms seriously.