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What Is The Difference Between Gerd And Heartburn

Is It Heartburn Or Is It Gerd

What Is The Difference Between Heartburn And Acid Reflux?

Occasional heartburn on its own is fairly common. To determine whether your heartburn might actually be a symptom of GERD, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Have the symptoms persisted for more than two weeks, even after taking over-the-counter medications?
  • Do you find you need to increase your dosage of OTC medications to find relief?
  • Are you constantly bringing up bits of food?
  • Has your heartburn increased in severity?
  • Have you lost your appetite or lost an inexplicable amount of weight?
  • Do you have trouble swallowing?
  • Does your heartburn wake you in the middle of the night?

If you answered yes to any of the above questions, you should consider scheduling an appointment with your doctor to ensure your heartburn isnt a sign of GERD or another serious condition.

For example, Dr. Malhi explains, Heartburn can occasionally present as symptoms of heart disease, especially in women. There are usually associated symptoms of a pressure-like sensation in the chest, pain in arm, jaw or neck, shortness of breath, or nausea or vomiting. If you are not sure, please seek immediate medical attention.

When To See A Doctor About Heartburn Vs Indigestion

If your symptoms of heartburn and/or indigestion dont improve after a few weeks of home remedies and preventive measures, see your doctor.

Chronic heartburn or indigestion issues could be a sign of an underlying medical condition that needs treatment. To get to the root of chronic indigestion or heartburn issues, your doctor may order a few tests, including:

  • a physical exam of your abdomen
  • acid probe tests to measure when stomach acid reaches back into your esophagus
  • imaging tests, such as X-rays and endoscopies , to look at your esophagus and stomach
  • blood or stool tests to rule out bacterial infections that may be causing indigestion
  • pain in your abdomen that doesnt go away
  • frequent vomiting
  • blood in vomit or stools
  • tar-colored stools

Can You Have Reflux Without Heartburn

Most of us have heard of gastroesophageal reflux disease, frequently referred to as GERD. GERD is one of the most commonly diagnosed digestive disorders in the U.S. According to the American College of Gastroenterology, more than 60 million Americans experience heartburn at least once a month. GERD is a common and oftentimes a complex, chronic condition that manifests in various ways other than with the typical heartburn symptoms. It can be difficult to diagnose and manage, but with the proper dietary, behavioral and medical therapy, a patient can return to a normal healthy life, says Chris Lascarides, MD, gastroenterologist at Mather Gastroenterology. If you have GERD, you may have experienced heartburn or indigestion. But is it possible to suffer from reflux and not know it?

Laryngopharyngeal reflux or silent reflux is a condition in which acid from the stomach travels up the esophagus and gets to the throat. This type of acid reflux typically does not produce heartburn or indigestion like GERD. Because these hallmark GERD symptoms are absent, or silent, many people dont realize theyre suffering from reflux.

Whats the difference between silent reflux & GERD?

Someone with silent reflux may not have classic GERD symptoms, particularly heartburn, making it more difficult to diagnose, and leaving the sufferer unaware that they have it. The most common symptoms of silent reflux include:

  • Hoarseness
  • Mild difficulty swallowing
  • Non-productive throat clearing

Read Also: What Can I Eat Or Drink To Stop Heartburn

How Is Gerd Diagnosed

The typical tests that your doctor will use to help diagnose GERD include:

24-hour impedance-probe study: This study involves inserting a flexible tub into your nose and advancing it into the esophagus. The tube has sensors that can detect if acid is refluxing past the esophagus.

Upper endoscopy: This test involves using a special tube with a camera on its end. When youre sedated, the tube can be passed from your mouth into your stomach and part of your small intestine. The upper endoscopy test can help a doctor identify any signs of damage, tumors, inflammation, or ulcers in these areas. Your doctor will usually take a tissue sample known as a biopsy.

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 Barretts esophagus. About 10 to 15 percent of people with GERD will develop this condition. Barretts esophagus increases your risk for a type of esophageal cancer known as adenocarcinoma. Experts believe that most cases of this type of esophageal cancer start from cells within Barretts tissue.

Eating certain foods are known to increase the amount of acid in the stomach, which can lead to symptoms of acid reflux and heartburn. Avoiding these foods may help to reduce symptoms without taking medications. Examples include:

  • alcoholic beverages

Making lifestyle changes such as:

Delaying Treatment May Lead To Complications

Difference Between Heartburn and Angina

If GERD goes untreated, it can lead to more serious complications. One such issue is esophagitis, which is inflammation in the esophagus. Hagan says if thats not treated, you may develop strictures, which is a narrowing of the esophagus that can lead to esophageal pain and affect proper swallowing.

Another complication of GERD is a condition called Barretts Esophagus . Over time, the stomach acid causes cells in the lining of the esophagus to look more like the stomach lining, says Hagan. These changes, which happen on a cellular level, may in rare cases lead to a form of esophageal cancer called esophageal adenocarcinoma. BE is more common in:

  • Caucasian males

This form of cancer appears to be on the rise, according to research published in March 2013 in the journal Cancer.

Meanwhile more recent research, published in May 2016 in the Journal of the American Medical Association, suggests that the chemical burn of stomach acid may not be the sole cause of changes to the esophageal lining. Instead, the study suggests that damage may be caused by an inflammatory response to proteins called cyotokines that are secreted in the intestinal lining of people with GERD.

If you have BE, says Hagan, your doctor may recommend surveillance endoscopy, which means he or she will perform an endoscopy periodically to see how well your esophagus is healing, secondary to drug therapy.

Also Check: What Are Tums For Heartburn

Lifestyle Changes Help Treat Acid Reflux/gerd

  • Maintain a healthy weight
  • Avoid tight-fitting clothes
  • Avoid food and drinks that trigger heartburn
  • Watch portion sizes larger and higher-fat meals tend to stay in the stomach longer before moving to the small intestine, so the LES and esophagus are potentially exposed to stomach contents and acid for a longer period
  • Keep a heartburn record your symptoms, the time they occurred, what you ate and activities you engaged in before you experienced the discomfort
  • Dont lie down after a meal
  • Elevate your head when lying down
  • Dont smoke

While some people experience acid reflux/GERD and heartburn relief by making changes to their lifestyle or by taking over-the-counter medications such as antacids, H2 blockers and PPIs, others may continue to experience symptoms. If four to eight weeks of twice-daily PPI therapy is unsuccessful, further investigation with endoscopy is recommended. There are some procedures that can be done to treat GERD.

When Acid Reflux Is Chronic: What Is Gerd

According to the ACG, GERD is acid reflux that occurs more than a couple of times per week. That said, its not the case that a person who has occasional heartburn will necessarily progress toward having GERD, says Louis Cohen, MD, gastroenterologist and assistant professor of medicine at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. But the symptoms are the same as those of acid reflux, such as the burning feeling in your chest and the sensation that your stomach contents are in your throat. You may also have a dry cough or trouble swallowing.

Diagnosing the condition can usually be done by a primary care doctor by simply evaluating symptom frequency and severity.

We may also put a probe into a patients esophagus for a day to measure how frequently reflux happens, says Dr. Cohen. Knowing how often reflux occurs is another way to confirm a diagnosis.

Treatment for GERD starts with lifestyle modifications, adds Hagan, well ask patients to try these steps before we offer medication, although we understand that it can be hard to do some things, such as quitting smoking.

The medication most often prescribed for GERD is a proton pump inhibitor , such as:

If we determine that GERD symptoms are caused by hypersensitivity in the esophagus or excessive relaxation of the lower esophagus, we might prescribe tricyclic antidepressants or selective serotonin uptake inhibitors, adds Cohen.

Also Check: What To Do For Constant Heartburn

Whats The Difference Between Acid Reflux Heartburn And Gerd

Many of us will experience some digestive discomfort in our lifetime. A common complaint people have is heartburn or acid reflux. People use the terms heartburn and acid reflux almost interchangeably. You may also hear cases of acid reflux referred to as gastroesophageal reflux disease .

So if youre dealing with any of these issues, you might want to know: whats the difference between acid reflux, heartburn, and GERD? All three are closely related, but they differ in important ways. In the most basic terms: heartburn is a symptom, acid reflux is a process, and GERD is a chronic condition.


Most people have experienced what is referred to as heartburn. Many people get heartburn after eating certain foods. Heartburn is a feeling of burning in the chest. The burning pain may be mild or severe. It often begins as discomfort behind the breastbone but can move up to the neck and throat. Heartburn is a symptom of acid reflux and GERD.

Acid Reflux

Acid reflux is a process in which stomach acid flows backward into the esophagus. The esophagus is the tube that connects the stomach to the throat. Acid reflux is sometimes called gastroesophageal reflux, or GER and is the cause of heartburn.

Common symptoms of acid reflux include burning pain and pressure starting behind the breastbone that may extend up the neck and throat, sore throat, cough, bitter taste in the throat, and a sour taste in the mouth.


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Difference Between Heartburn Acid Reflux And Gerd

The #1 difference between Heartburn and GERD/GORD

The terms heartburn, acid reflux, and GERD are often used interchangeably, but they have very different meanings. The top gastroenterologists at SMILES help you understand the differences between heartburn, acid reflux, and GERD, & how you can manage if you have any of these conditions.

Acid reflux is a digestive disorder that can range from mild to severe. Gastroesophageal reflux disease or GERD is a constantly recurring form of acid reflux. Heartburn is the most symptom of both acid reflux and GERD.

Also Check: What Kind Of Foods Give You Heartburn

Find Out The Differences Between The Two

Acid Reflux and GERD are tied closely togetherbut most people arent aware of what differentiates them. Here’s an easy way to know the difference: Acid Reflux occurs when the acid in your stomach backs up, or refluxes, into your esophagus, causing heartburn. And Gastro-Esophageal Reflux Disease is chronic or recurring acid reflux.1

Many things can cause acid reflux, including foods like coffee and chocolate, being overweight or pregnant, or eating too much or too quickly.

But what’s actually happening inside you? At the entrance of your stomach is the lower esophageal sphincter, a ring of muscle that opens to let food in and closes tight to keep food and acid in the stomach. If this muscle doesn’t close all the way or opens too often, acid can flow back into your esophagus, causing heartburn.

What Else Should I Know

Early diagnosis and treatment can help reduce or even stop uncomfortable GERD symptoms. Untreated GERD can cause permanent damage to the esophagus.

You’ll probably find that one of the simplest ways to make living with GERD easier is to avoid the things that trigger your symptoms. Some people will have to limit certain foods others may have to give them up entirely. It all depends on your symptoms.

It can be hard to give up sodas or favorite foods at first. But after a while, lots of people discover that they feel so much better that they don’t miss the problem foods as much as they thought they would.

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The Difference Between Acid Reflux And Gerd

The American College of Gastroenterology says that at least 15 million Americans, or 20 percent of the American population, experience heartburn every day. Heartburn is the manifestation the symptom of acid reflux, or stomach contents coming back up in your esophagus.

You can often pinpoint a reason for the burn , but if heartburn happens often defined as a couple of times a week it could be a symptom of a more serious condition called gastroesophageal reflux disease .

While it may seem that GERD is just a fancy name for heartburn, they are more like close cousins than identical twins.

Differences Between Acid Reflux Heartburn & Gerd

Heres The Difference Between Acid Reflux, Heartburn, and ...

Knowing whether you have acid reflux, heartburn, and GERD is understandably confusingthe symptoms are often similar. The three conditions are actually all progressions of the same issue. Heres whats happening in your body to jump-start the process.

First, you eat something. It doesnt have to be something particularly fatty, spicy, or decadent. The most common culprits, though, are acidic and fatty foods. Think citrus, chocolate, fried foods, tomatoes, and other things like that.

After chowing down, that food heads from your esophagus to your stomach, a space guarded by the lower esophageal sphincter. Its a ring of muscle that closes up to keep everything in when food hits your belly. The problem comes in when that muscle doesnt tighten or close up properly. Stomach acid can then leak back into your esophagus, causing acid reflux, heartburn, and GERD.

All three conditions are more common with people who eat too quickly, drink or smoke, are obese, have a lot of stress, slouch a lot, have Diabetes, or are pregnant. So how do you know which one you have? Lets take a closer look.

Also Check: Over The Counter Heartburn Relief

That Burning Feeling: What Is Heartburn

After you swallow food, it makes its way down the esophagus and into the stomach, where a ring of muscle, called the lower esophageal sphincter , closes to keep the food in. But sometimes the LES is weak or doesnt properly close, allowing stomach acid to backup, which irritates the lining of the esophagus. Thats acid reflux, or heartburn.

The American College of Gastroenterology estimates that more than 60 million Americans experience heartburn at least once a month. Symptoms include:

  • A burning sensation in the center of your chest that lasts from several minutes to an hour or two
  • A feeling of chest pressure or pain that is worse if you bend over or lie down
  • A sour, bitter, or acidic taste in the back of your throat
  • A feeling that food is stuck in your throat or the middle of your chest

You can generally avoid occasional bouts of heartburn with some lifestyle modifications. Your doctor will likely suggest you try to treat heartburn by making the following lifestyle changes before medication comes into play.

  • Avoid foods that trigger reflux for you. Spicy, acidic, and fried or fatty foods are more likely to trigger reflux. So can caffeine and alcohol.
  • Stay upright after eating a big meal to allow for optimal digestion. Its best to not eat in the hours leading up to bedtime, says Dr. Hagan.
  • If youre overweight or obese, losing some weight can help.
  • If you smoke, do your best to quit.

Related: 7 Low Acid Foods to Add to Your Reflux Diet

What Is The Difference Between Regular Heartburn And Gerd

Everyone has heartburn from time to time. Theres nothing unusual about that. Generally, taking an antacid helps. However, if youre popping Tums more than three times a week, its time to speak to your doctor.

The technical definition of GERD is mild acid reflux that occurs twice a week or moderate to severe acid reflux that occurs once a week. When over-the-counter medicines dont make a dent in the horrible heartburn, you likely have GERD.

Read Also: Foods You Can Eat With Heartburn

What Happens To The Food If It Cant Get Past The Obstruction

Its regurgitated. It comes back up and is spat out because it cant go down.

If the tumor progresses enough, even mashed potatoes or pudding will come back up.

As this state approaches, even patients in denial have to seek medical help.

Patients with cancer may have pain, usually due to distension of the esophagus above the tumor blocking the passage of food.

While the patient recognizes the pain is from the esophagus, it is not a burning sensation such as is due to acid irritation caused by GERD.

Its fair to point out that not all GERD pain feels like burning. It may just be pain, which can range from subtle to severe.

Cancer patients rarely even mention pain unless asked, as their focus is on the difficulty swallowing, says Dr. Little.

When food has mechanical trouble sliding down your esophagus due to an obstructing tumor, AND even if it gets past the tumor, this is one of those symptoms thats not going to fly under the radar no matter how busy or distracted you are.

You WILL feel it. There wont be, Hmmm, am I only imagining food is getting stuck in my chest?

Dr. Little continues, Patients with acid reflux and heartburn do not need to worry about having cancer.

However, many are aware of Barretts esophagus, its relationship to GERD and its malignant potential.

As I stated, if heartburn is persistent, frequent or severe, then its reasonable to communicate that to a physician who can determine the need for an endoscopy.


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