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The Differences Between Acid Reflux, Heartburn, and GERD

Woman Suffering From Acid Reflux Or Heartburn
If you've felt a burning sensation in your chest lately, you aren't alone. Many people live with acid reflux. Or is it heartburn? Or GERD? Any of these three health concerns may come with similar symptoms that make it difficult for you to tell them apart.
While many people struggle to tell these conditions apart, they are actually quite different. In this article, you will read how each condition has its own symptoms, treatments, and side effects.

Acid Reflux

Acid reflux occurs when food and acid from the stomach works its way back into the throat. Acid reflux often comes with a sour taste or a slight taste of something you ate earlier lingering in your mouth. Acid reflux results from the sphincter connecting the stomach and esophagus becoming too loose.
Sometimes, acid reflux is caused by a condition called hiatal hernia, the result of the stomach and esophageal sphincter moving above the diaphragm. If you have a hiatal hernia, you may require medical care beyond medication and over-the-counter remedies.
The symptoms that make acid reflux different from heartburn is that acid reflux is often accompanied by bloating, burping, vomiting, nausea, hiccuping, and dry throat.
Eating certain foods may eliminate occasional acid reflux. Consider adding vegetables, oatmeal, ginger, and healthy fats to your diet while eliminating coffee, alcohol, and tomatoes. You can also avoid occasional acid reflux by not lying down within a few hours of eating a meal.


You are likely to feel heartburn behind your rib cage, and the pain might scare you at first. Don't worry, though. It's not actually your heart acting out. The pain is actually inside your esophagus, and it can last anywhere from minutes to hours.
While heartburn can appear on its own, many people actually experience heartburn as a symptom of frequent acid reflux. Some lucky people will only experience the symptoms of heartburn a few times in life.
Symptoms of heartburn usually include chest pain, which is much more prominent after bending over or lying down. This often accompanies a burning in the back of the throat and acidic fluid that comes up.
While acid reflux may come with more of a burning in the throat and chest, heartburn might feel like a sharp pain on either side of the chest. Sometimes, the pain is so severe that patients confuse it for the symptoms of a heart attack. Thankfully, heartburn has nothing to do with your heart.
Diagnosing heartburn is usually as simple as relaying the symptoms to your doctor.  The doctor's central concern is likely surrounding whether you may be mistaking heartburn for a heart attack.


Gastroesophageal reflux, or GERD, is essentially chronic acid reflux. If you have acid reflux at least twice a week, you may have GERD. Statistics show that about 20 to 30 percent of the Western World population may be living with GERD.
Some people are more likely than others to experience GERD. They include individuals who are obese, who smoke, and who have low levels of physical activity. Pregnant women are also likely to have temporary GERD.
Because GERD results from frequent acid reflux, it may come with more side effects and complications. Esophagitis, or inflammation of the esophagus, and respiratory problems may result from the health condition. Barrett's esophagus is another potential complication, which makes you more likely to experience esophageal cancer.
Treating Acid Reflux, Heartburn, or GERD
Doctors can help you pinpoint causes of these conditions and help you treat them. Not sure what your symptoms are telling you? ApexCare might be able to help. Call us today to set up an appointment with one of our stellar medical professionals.