Why can indigestion be confused with heart disease?
Indigestion is characterized by pain centered in the upper abdomen. Heartburn is a burning pain in the chest, often made worse by bending or lying down. Pain from the heart is also felt in the chest and sometimes in the upper abdomen. There are two kinds of heart pain. The first—angina—is a pain in the chest due to a temporary shortage of oxygen being carried in the blood to the heart muscle. Angina should be suspected if the chest pain is brought on by exercise and relieved by rest.

The second is the more severe and prolonged pain of a heart attack. A heart attack should be suspected if the pain is felt intensely in the center of the chest, spreading perhaps to one or both arms (especially the left) and into the lower jaw; or feels like a heavy pressure or is “vice-like.” Potentially dangerous confusion can arise when someone neglects their heart pain believing it to be indigestion.

You should consult your doctor urgently if you experience:

  • Severe prolonged chest pain
  • Red or altered blood (like coffee grounds) in vomit
  • Black stools
  • Rapid weight loss
  • Recurrent vomiting
  • Difficulty in swallowing
  • Yellowing of the skin (jaundice)
  • Pain radiating to the back

Further Information:
National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse (NDDIC): http://www.digestive.niddk.nih.gov/ddiseases/pubs/indigestion/index.aspx

Last Reviewed: May 2013