What’s the Difference Between Heartburn and Acid Reflux?
The words heartburn, acid reflux, and GERD are often used in the same manner. They actually have very different meanings. Acid reflux is a frequently occurring medical condition that can range in severity from mild to painful. Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is the chronic, more serious form of acid reflux. Heartburn is a symptom of acid reflux and GERD.
Distinguishing between heartburn, acid reflux, and gastroesophageal reflux disease contains understanding what joins them together. According to the American College of Gastroenterology, heartburn is a common digestive complaint in the United States, affecting more than 60 million Americans each month.
Heartburn is not an ailment on its own, and it does not affect the heart. Rather, it is a symptom of acid reflux and is often joined with bloating, cramps, nausea, and more. If symptoms of acid reflux occur frequently, it can indicate that a person has gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).
Understanding the difference between heartburn and acid reflux, or GERD may be difficult, because they may all feel the same in the moment. However, being able to distinguish between them can help a person find the best remedy.
A round muscle called the lower esophageal sphincter (LES) connects your esophagus and stomach. This muscle oversees the tightening your esophagus once food passes to the stomach. If this muscle is weak or won’t tighten properly, the acid from your stomach can move upwards into your esophagus. This is known as acid reflux.
Acid reflux can cause heartburn and other symptoms that include a persistent cough, sore throat, pungent taste in the back of the throat, tart taste in the mouth, burning, and pressure that can extend up to the chest.
Acid reflux is an annoying condition that can become quite painful. Those that suffer from it find it difficult to live worry-free lives as the threat of discomfort is always looming.
GERD is the chronic form of acid reflux. It’s identified when acid reflux happens more than twice a week or causes swelling in the esophagus. Long-term damage of the esophagus can lead to cancer. Pain from GERD may or may not be relieved with antacids or other over-the-counter (OTC) medication.
Symptoms of GERD may comprise of bad breath, damage to tooth enamel due to excess acid, heartburn, excess fullness, regurgitation, chest pain, persistent dry cough, asthma, and difficulty swallowing.
Often, people suffer from heartburn and acid reflux intermittently. It is often partly attributed to unagreeable food or habits like lying down immediately after eating. On the other hand, GERD is a chronic condition where doctors start to examine long-lasting habits and parts of a person’s anatomy that could cause GERD. Examples of the causes of GERD could be being overweight or obese, having a hiatal hernia, smoking, alcohol consumption, pregnancy, certain medication, such as antihistamines, calcium channel blockers, pain-relieving medicines, sedatives, and/or certain antidepressants.
Symptoms of GERD may disturb your daily routine. Fortunately, they can usually be controlled with particular treatments, but certain lifestyle changes are necessary. Things like diet, weight loss, quitting smoking, and reducing alcohol consumption can lead to the lessening of GERD and its related symptoms.
Medications for GERD can work to decrease the level of acid in the stomach. Like many traditional treatments, they may not work for everyone and some people may require surgery.
The term “heartburn” is a misnomer. The heart actually has nothing to do with the pain you are experiencing when you suffer from heartburn as it happens in your digestive system – specifically, in your esophagus. Heartburn encompasses mild to severe pain in the chest and upper abdomen areas. Severe heartburn can even be mistaken for heart attack pain.
The lining of your esophagus is more fragile than the lining of your stomach. This is why the acid in your esophagus generates a burning sensation in your chest. The pain can feel piercing, burning, or like a constricting. Sometimes it can feel like all three are happening at once! Heartburn is often labeled as a burning sensation that travels up around the neck and throat or behind the breastbone.
Heartburn usually occurs after eating and certain actions like bending over or lying down can worsen the feeling. You are not alone in your suffering. Heartburn is quite common, and it is estimated that more than 60 million Americans suffer from heartburn monthly. Certain changes in lifestyle can help you manage heartburn. For example, consider losing weight, quitting smoking, fewer fatty foods, and avoiding spicy or acidic foods.
Mild, infrequent heartburn can also be treated with medications like antacids. If you are finding yourself in need of antacids more than several times a week, you should visit a doctor. Your heartburn may be a symptom of a more serious issue like acid reflux or GERD.
What’s the difference between heartburn and acid reflux? – additional causes
Acid reflux is when acid it sent back up to the esophagus, causing pain and discomfort. GERD is the chronic condition of acid reflux and heartburn is an accompanying symptom of both. Because of this link, many of the same causes can trigger pain and discomfort.
The stomach is built to withstand acid. The food pipe is not, and when acid rises into it, a person experiences burning pain. The muscle at the end of the food pipe is called the lower esophageal sphincter. It can weaken or relax, and potentially cause acid reflux, for several reasons.
For example, high amounts of pressure on the abdomen can cause the sphincter to grow slack. For this reason, acid reflux is common in people who are overweight, obese, or pregnant.
Besides eating, drinking, and unhealthy lifestyle habits, numerous medications can also trigger acid reflux, including asthma medication, high blood pressure medication, antidepressants, antihistamines, pain relievers, and sedatives.
Traditional Western Treatments
In many cases, lifestyle changes combined with over-the-counter medications are enough to control the symptoms of acid reflux disease.
Antacids can counteract the acid from your stomach. But they may cause side effects such as diarrhea or constipation, especially if you overdo it. It’s a better practice to take antacids that contain both magnesium hydroxide and aluminum hydroxide. When combined, they may help counteract these gastrointestinal side effects. It is tough for those of us who suffer, and our “cure” turns out to contain as much unpleasantness as the condition we are trying to prevent.
If antacids don’t help, your doctor may try prescription medications, such as foaming agents, H2 blockers, proton pump inhibitors, or prokinetics. Each of these medications can bring along its own uncomfortable, and even painful, set of side effects.
You’re probably well aware that medications can help you find relief, but natural heartburn remedies and lifestyle changes may be the most optimal method to get that much-needed relief you’ve been dreaming of.
One commonly used “natural” heartburn remedy is calcium. It’s also the active ingredient in many over-the-counter antacids. If you find yourself taking antacids consistently and you’re experiencing heartburn more than twice a week, or if you are consuming antacids for longer than two weeks, it’s time to visit the doctor. Regular heartburn can lead to long-term problems. It can cause swelling and tears in your esophagus. In some, albeit rare, cases, it may even lead to cancer. But stopping the acid reflux can help prevent complications in the future.
Essential Oils have been shown to offer all-around relief in combatting acid reflux, GERD, heartburn, and additional symptoms related to digestive issues. It has even been shown that, through periodic use, essential oil therapy could prevent certain gastrointestinal issues entirely!
We often get too bogged down in thinking that over-the-counter medications can solve nearly all of our problem. But we mustn’t forget that mankind has not just survived, but has thrived, for thousands upon thousands of years with only natural remedies to count on. History is on our side and natural remedies, such as essential oils, should be a part of your health regimen to help with acid reflux and promote overall well-being.
Additional Changes To Help With Heartburn, Acid Reflux, and GERD
You may have been diagnosed with acid reflux disease (GERD) but that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy your life fully. These guidelines won’t necessarily stop your acid reflux, but it is often possible to ease the symptoms enough that it may not be as debilitating.
If you hope to take charge of your acid reflux symptoms, it usually requires a combination of lifestyle changes. Following just one of these tips may be of some benefit, but most likely won’t offer you the results you need. However, combining a few of these guidelines may help you more if you simply added them together.
Eating smaller meals helps to keep your stomach from becoming too full. This will reduce your gastric pressure. You can still get your same food intake, it is just best to consume it throughout the day as opposed to three single sittings.
By slowing down your eating you will end up with less food in your stomach at any one time. It takes time for the chemical messengers in our stomach to let the brain know we’re getting full. This delay encourages us to overeat which, in turn, can exacerbate acid reflux and its symptoms.
Turn off the television, put down the phone, and don’t reach for a magazine. Think about the food you are eating. Mix food with conversation. If all else fails and you’re still eating too fast, try eating with your off hand.
Try to avoid eating or drinking in close to bedtime. A two-hour window should be your general rule of thumb. When you lie flat, the contents of your stomach tend to want to travel upwards into your esophagus. Many people with heartburn find that their symptoms improve when they eat their bigger meals earlier in the day. Napping in a chair can also be beneficial in combatting symptoms of acid reflux and GERD.
It should be clear by now some of the foods and beverages you keep consuming trigger your heartburn. It’s time to minimize this consumption. Some foods cause heartburn by increasing acid production in your stomach, whereas others do their deed by loosening the lower sphincter muscle in your esophagus. There are also foods that can directly irritate the lining of your esophagus such as spicy foods, citrus fruits, coffee, and juices. Consuming these foods during the night and evening raises your risk of heartburn more than if you consume them earlier in the day.
Alcohol consumption increases the production of stomach acid and also relaxes the lower esophageal sphincter (LES), allowing stomach contents to reflux back up into the esophagus. If you must consume alcohol, you should consider how much and when is the best time to drink it. A reduction of alcohol can decrease the chance it will cause heartburn.
When you sleep with your head higher than your stomach, gravity can help to reduce pressure and keep the contents of your stomach where it belongs—in your stomach. You can raise your head in a couple of different ways. You can place bricks, blocks or anything that’s sturdy securely under the legs at the head of your bed. You can also use a wedge-shaped pillow to elevate your head. Note that simply piling up pillows doesn’t usually work very well to relieve heartburn, and the angle created by these attempts may even make your heartburn worse.
Clothing that fits tightly around the abdomen will squeeze the stomach, forcing food up against the lower esophageal sphincter (LES), and can cause food to reflux into the esophagus. Clothing that can cause problems includes tight-fitting belts and slenderizing undergarments.
Lastly, just relax. While stress hasn’t been linked directly to heartburn, it’s known to lead to behaviors that can trigger heartburn. You can learn relaxation tips to alleviate your stress, and thus make stress-related heartburn less likely.
Through the combination of treatment, lifestyle changes, and stress management, you can live a comfortable and pain-free life that is free of acid reflux, GERD, and heartburn.