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Acid Reflux, Heartburn and GERD: Which Is Which?

Did you know that around 15 million people in the United States experience heartburn every day?

If you’re struggling, you’re not alone, but it helps to know when acid reflux and heartburn may require medical attention. Here are some common questions I get from my patients about heartburn, acid reflux and GERD.

Are heartburn and acid reflux the same thing?

People may use “acid reflux” and “heartburn” interchangeably, but if we get technical, they’re two different things.

Heartburn versus acid reflux

Acid reflux occurs when your stomach contents, including stomach acid, rise out of your stomach and into your esophagus. When this happens, you may taste food or acid in the back of your mouth. You may feel nauseated. And you may get heartburn.

Heartburn feels like a burning sensation in your chest, behind your breastbone, that may rise to your throat. It may get worse at night, after a large meal, or when you’re lying down. It’s estimated that over 40% of Americans experience heartburn at least once a month.

In short, acid reflux causes the symptom of heartburn. The difference is subtle, but it’s an important distinction.

Read More: Get the Facts About GERD

What is GERD?

Feelings of heartburn caused by acid reflux are normal from time to time. If you get these feelings occasionally, there’s nothing to be concerned about.

However, if you experience heartburn often, roughly more than twice a week, you may have gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). GERD is related to acid reflux and heartburn, but having occasional bouts of heartburn is not the same as having GERD.

Acid reflux versus GERD

With GERD, the muscle between your esophagus and stomach becomes weaker and more relaxed than it should be. This allows acid reflux to occur more often, which in turn leads to repeated instances of heartburn. GERD can also cause other symptoms such as chest pain, difficulty breathing and/or swallowing, regurgitation (“throwing up in your mouth”) and a dry cough.

Read More: GERD? Consider a Surgical Solution

How do you treat acid reflux and heartburn?

When it’s an occasional occurrence, over-the-counter antacids or other medications can be taken intermittently to help. You can also avoid foods that may trigger acid reflux, such as:

  • Alcohol
  • Caffeine
  • Chocolate
  • High-fat foods
  • Spicy foods
  • Sodas and other carbonated drinks

When should I seek treatment for GERD?

Working with a gastroenterologist can help alleviate symptoms of GERD. We can prescribe medications to relieve GERD, and in some cases, we can recommend surgical procedures to help the pathway between the stomach and esophagus close properly so acid reflux doesn’t occur.

Visit tanner.org to learn more about our gastroenterology care, or call 678-931-8156 to schedule an appointment.

Gastroenterology Care, Tanner Medical Group




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