Have you ever felt a sharp, burning sensation near your breastbone or ribs, and weren’t sure if you were experiencing a heart attack or heartburn? You aren’t alone. The two conditions have very similar symptoms, and many people find it difficult to tell the difference.

So what should you do? These tips will help you determine when to seek medical attention:

  • Note when heartburn occurs. If you tend to experience heartburn episodes 30 to 45 minutes after eating a certain meal, then food is probably the cause of your pain and irritation. But if you haven’t eaten or drunk anything that usually triggers heartburn, and you start feeling pain and irritation in your chest, then definitely seek medical attention. In both cases, immediately call a doctor if you have difficulty swallowing or are vomiting blood—these symptoms may indicate damage to the esophagus. Also, heartburn during or after exercise or other exertion is a huge red flag.
  • Get evaluated for first-time heartburn. If you experience heartburn for the first time, this might be a sign of a heart problem, especially if you smoke cigarettes or have other risk factors for heart disease, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes and a family history of heart problems.
  • Pay attention to symptoms. If heartburn is accompanied by shortness of breath or arm pain, you should immediately seek medical attention.

To learn more about cardio health, read RH’s Wilbon’s "Wake-Up Call."