Heartburn vs. Acid Reflux vs. GERD: All You Need to Know

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Heartburn is one of the most common digestive complaints in the United States. It usually occurs after you ingest a heavy meal, and a burning feeling starts to rise in your throat. It is most prevalent in pregnant ladies and overweight people.  

What many don’t realize is that heartburn is not the same as acid reflux or GERD. How do you know if your heartburn is acid reflux or something more chronic, like gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)? While the three are all similar, there are some differences between them. 

The Cause

Food travels from your mouth to your stomach through the esophagus. The muscle at the end of the esophagus is called the lower esophageal sphincter (LES), and it opens when you swallow food. If the LES opens when it’s not supposed to, acid flows back (or refluxes) from the stomach into the esophagus, causing a burning sensation.

Acid reflux is the cause of heartburn, whereas GERD is the most extreme form of acid reflux!

Acid Reflux: The Cause

Some people can have an hour of acid reflux per day and only feel mild symptoms, such as a slightly bitter taste at the back of the throat.

Severe acid reflux symptoms include:

  • Heartburn
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Regurgitation
  • Difficulty when swallowing
  • Breathing problems

Acid reflux can be caused by:

  • Eating right before bed or late at night
  • Consuming high-fat foods
  • Consuming acidic or alcoholic drinks
  • Smoking
  • Various medications including asthma, high blood pressure, antidepressants, antihistamines, pain relievers

Heartburn: The Symptom

Over 60 million Americans experience heartburn at least once a month. Heartburn is a symptom and not a condition or a disease in itself! It actually also has nothing to do with the heart.

Heartburn is the burning feeling caused by acid refluxing from the stomach into the esophagus. Heartburn manifests in a burning sensation in the chest and up the throat, and it can feel worse if experienced lying down.

Mild heartburn can be treated with antacids. It can also be reduced by lifestyle changes, such as losing weight, avoiding spicy/fatty/acidic food and beverages, and quitting smoking.

If you find yourself taking antacids several times a week, your frequent heartburn may be a sign of GERD.

GERD: A Chronic Condition

GERD is a chronic condition diagnosed when acid reflux occurs more than twice a week. Diagnosing this condition requires multiple tests because it can be difficult to differentiate between regular acid reflux and GERD complications. 

Your gastroenterologist may conduct an endoscopy, esophageal pH, or an upper GI series. These tests involve a much closer look into what occurs in your digestive tract when you swallow food.

Antacids or other over-the-counter medication generally can’t relieve more severe GERD symptoms. It could be indicated by:

  • Tooth enamel damage due to acid reflux
  • Persistent dry cough
  • Bad breath
  • Chest pain
  • Asthma

GERD symptoms can be very disruptive to daily life. Damage to the esophageal lining can lead to more severe conditions, such as Barrett’s esophagus and esophageal cancer. Some lifestyle changes such as diet modification and weight loss can mitigate the worst symptoms of this condition. Prescribed medication includes H2 receptor antagonists and proton pump inhibitors.

Conclusion

Heartburn is a common symptom of acid reflux and GERD. Differentiating them will help you and your healthcare provider determine what type of treatment you may need for your symptoms. If you are experiencing severe acid reflux symptoms multiple times a week, it’s essential to be tested for GERD or other digestive conditions!

Reflux Away is your best source for everything you need to know about heartburn, acid reflux, and GERD. If you want to learn about the connection between baking soda and acid reflux or finding out if mustard can help with heartburn, then check out the posts on our blog today! We provide all kinds of content to keep you informed and help you with your condition. Visit our website for more useful tips.  

If you’re looking to treat acid reflus, GERD, or heartburn, visit our Heartburn No More website for some extremely useful tips.

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