SATURDAY, March 3, 2007 (HealthDay News) -- If you aren't sure whether you are having heartburn or something more serious -- like a heart attack -- you should get checked out, say experts at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles.
The most common symptom of coronary heart disease is chest pain (angina) or discomfort, which can also occur in the shoulders, arms, neck, jaw or back. People may mistake this pain for indigestion, which can be dangerous.
"Sometimes, it's impossible to tell the difference between the symptoms of heartburn, angina and heart attack," Prediman K. Shah, director of the Division of Cardiology and the Atherosclerosis Research Center at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, said in a prepared statement.
A heart attack occurs when the blood supply to part of the heart muscle is severely reduced or stopped. This can result in death or disability, depending on how much of the heart muscle is damaged.
Unfortunately, many people may not be aware they are having a heart attack.
"There are some useful pointers that might help a person know whether they're having a heart attack or not, but when in doubt, check it out," said Shah.
Heart attack symptoms include the sudden onset of tightness, pressure, squeezing, burning or discomfort in the chest, throat, neck or either arm. When these symptoms are accompanied by nausea, vomiting, sweating, shortness of breath or a fainting sensation, Shah says you should be especially suspicious that you might be having a heart attack.
People who have any risk factors that may predispose them to a heart attack should be particularly cautious.
"If you smoke, have diabetes, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, are overweight or have a strong family history of heart disease and have any symptom related to the chest or heart, you should be suspicious," said Shah.
So, what should you do if you are having symptoms you think may be a heart attack?
"Generally, we recommend that if you think you're having a heart attack, call 911," said Shah. "It's the safest thing to do. We tell people to err on the side of caution and overreact instead of under-react."
The American Heart Association has more about heart attack.