If you have chest pain, you might be worried that it’s a sign of a heart attack. Acid reflux or GERD-related chest discomfort typically feels like a burning sensation that also affects your throat and stomach.

While chest pain can be a sign of a heart attack, it’s also one of the common symptoms of acid reflux.

Chest discomfort that’s related to gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is often called noncardiac chest pain (NCCP). This can imitate angina pain, which is defined as chest pain coming from the heart.

Learning ways to distinguish the different types of chest pain might put your mind at ease and help you treat your acid reflux more effectively. However, it’s important to remember that heart attack symptoms need to be taken seriously, so it’s a good idea to get medical attention if you have them.

Read on to learn more about chest pain and GERD.

Cardiac chest pain and NCCP can both appear behind your breastbone, making it hard to distinguish between the two types of pain.

Chest pain involving the heart is more likely to spread to other parts of your body. You might feel the pain in your:

  • arms, especially the upper part of your left arm
  • back
  • shoulders
  • neck

Chest pain caused by GERD is usually located either behind your sternum or just underneath it in an area known as the epigastrium. It is often accompanied by a burning behind your breastbone and may not be felt as much in the left arm.

When acid reflux damages the esophagus, you can experience esophageal spasms. These can cause pain in your throat and the upper part of your chest.

You may be able to determine what’s causing your chest pain based on where you feel the pain.

Common ways that people describe pain associated with heart disease include:

  • crushing
  • squeezing
  • tightness
  • heaviness on the chest
  • burning

On the other hand, NCCP may feel sharp and tender.

People with GERD may have temporary, severe chest pain when taking a deep breath or coughing. This difference is key. The intensity level of cardiac pain stays the same when you breathe deeply.

Reflux-related chest discomfort is less likely to feel like it’s coming from deep within your chest. It may seem like it’s closer to the surface of your skin, and it’s more often described as burning or sharp.

Muscle strains and GERD-related chest pain tend to feel better when you move your body. Ask yourself if your chest pain changes in intensity or goes away completely when you change your body position to figure out the cause of the discomfort.

The symptoms of acid reflux, including chest pain and heartburn, may get a lot better as you straighten your body to a sitting or standing position. Bending and lying down can make the pain worse.

Cardiac chest pain keeps hurting, regardless of your body position. It can also come and go throughout the day. NCCP tends to be painful for a long time before going away.

Assessing other symptoms that occur with chest pain can help you distinguish one form of pain from another.

Pain caused by a cardiac issue can make you feel:

Noncardiac, gastrointestinal causes of chest pain can include a variety of other symptoms, including:

  • trouble swallowing
  • frequent burping or belching
  • a burning sensation in your throat, chest, or stomach
  • a sour taste in your mouth caused by the regurgitation of acid

You should take chest pain seriously, so it’s a good idea to speak with your doctor about your symptoms.

They may perform an EKG or stress test. They can also order a blood draw for tests to rule out heart disease as the underlying cause if you don’t have a prior history of GERD.

Usually, a full medical history and testing can help your doctor find the reason for your chest pain and put you on the road to recovery.

Chest pain that accompanies frequent heartburn can be treated with proton pump inhibitors (PPIs), a type of medication that reduces the amount of acid in your stomach. However, they’re not a long-term solution.

Your doctor may also recommend cutting out certain types of food that can trigger symptoms, such as fried foods, spicy foods, and citrus fruits. People can have different food triggers, so it can help to keep a record of what you ate before you experienced heartburn.

If you think your chest pain is heart-related, get emergency care. Your individual treatment will depend on what your doctor determines is the cause.

While both heart attacks and GERD can cause chest pain, the type of pain you’ll experience usually feels different. The pain associated with heart disease can feel tight, squeezing, and crushing, and pain from acid reflux may feel sharp and tender.

It’s important to take any type of chest pain seriously. If you’re experiencing chest pain that you think is related to heart disease, it’s a good idea to get medical attention.