The Difference Between Heartburn, GERD, and Acid Reflux
The terms heartburn, GERD, and acid reflux are
often used interchangeably. However, they actually have very different
Acid reflux is a very common medical condition that may or may not be serious.
disease (GERD) is the chronic, more severe form of acid reflux.
Heartburnis a symptom of GERD and acid reflux.
What Is Heartburn?
Heartburn is a mild to severe pain in the chest. It
usually occurs after eating a meal. It can be a burning or tightening
sensation. Bending over or lying down can make it feel worse.
The term “heartburn” is somewhat misleading. The
heart actually has nothing to do with the pain. Heartburn occurs in your
digestive system. Specifically, it occurs in the esophagus. It’s sometimes
mistaken for heart attack pain.
Heartburn is quite common. According to the American College of
Gastroenterology (ACG), more than 60 million Americans experience heartburn
at least once a month.
You may be able to manage your heartburn by:
fewer fatty foods
spicy or acidic foods
Mild, infrequent heartburn can also be treated with
medications like antacids. However, a doctor should evaluate you if you take
antacids more than several times a week. Your heartburn may be a symptom of a
more severe problem like acid reflux of GERD.
What Is Acid
A circular muscle called the lower esophageal sphincter (LES) lies
between your esophagus and stomach. This muscle is in charge of closing your
esophagus after food passes to the stomach. If this muscle is weak or doesn’t close
properly, the acid from your stomach can move backward into your esophagus.
This is known as acid reflux.
The lining of your esophagus is more delicate than the lining of your
stomach. Therefore, acid in your esophagus causes a burning sensation in your
chest. This sensation is known as heartburn.
What Is GERD?
GERD is the chronic form of acid reflux. It’s diagnosed when acid reflux
occurs more than twice a week or causes swelling in the esophagus. Pain from
GERD may not be relieved with antacids or other over-the-counter medication.
Symptoms of GERD include:
- feeling like
stomach contents have come back up to the throat or mouth (regurgitation)
- chest pain
- dry cough
Symptoms of GERD may disrupt your daily life. Fortunately, they can
usually be controlled with treatment. Options include both medications and
lifestyle changes like:
- weight loss
Medications for GERD generally try to reduce the amount of acid in the
stomach. They may not be effective for all patients. Some people need surgery
to help strengthen the LES.
Acid from the stomach can damage the lining of the esophagus if GERD is
left untreated. This can cause:
The acid can also cause a change in the cells in the esophagus over
time. This is called Barrett’s esophagus. Barrett’s esophagus increases your
risk of esophageal cancer. However, esophageal cancer is extremely rare, even
in people with Barrett’s.
Heartburn Require Medical Care?
Not all heartburn requires medical care. Infrequent and mild heartburn can
be treated with antacids and lifestyle changes like avoiding spicy foods.
Occasional reflux is not a cause for concern. You should consult a doctor if
you have heartburn two or more times a week or if over-the-counter medications
don’t relieve your discomfort.
Symptoms of heartburn are often mistaken for heart attack, but the two
conditions are unrelated. If your heartburn discomfort and chest pain changes
or gets worse and is accompanied by difficulty breathing or pain in your arm or
jaw, call 911 immediately These symptoms can be signs of a heart attack.