GERD And Heartburn: Easy Ways To Tell The Difference

The terms GERD and Heartburn are often used interchangeably. So, what’s the difference between GERD and heartburn? Heartburn is a symptom of GERD, which stands for Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease. There is some crossover between the conditions however, with GERD being more serious than heartburn. It’s important to understand the difference between GERD and heartburn so you can monitor your symptoms and know when to seek medical treatment.

What is Heartburn?

difference between GERD and heartburn

Heartburn is the burning and often painful sensation near the heart or centre of your chest that you experience after meals.

The term, heartburn, is a misnomer – as the heart itself has nothing to do with heartburn. Instead, it’s the stomach and the esophagus that’s related to heartburn.

In normal digestion, the lower esophageal sphincter muscle, also called the LES, is the valve between the esophagus and the stomach. This valve helps keep your stomach acids in your stomach. And your LES is only supposed to open to let food into your stomach, or to let your burps out.

But when your LES weakens due to acid imbalance in your stomach, or any other medical condition, your stomach acid refluxes back up into the esophagus. If this happens too frequently, the corrosive effect of acid on your esophagus causes heartburn.

It is normal for healthy people to reflux for up to one hour a day without without knowing they are doing it. It only becomes a problem once we start feeling that burning sensation. And this is caused by acid refluxing back into your esophagus too frequently.

Heartburn is a symptom of GERD. You can have heartburn and not have GERD. And finally, acid reflux is when acid moves from your stomach back up into your esophagus.

Difference between GERD and heartburn
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What is GERD?

Gastro-Esophageal Reflux Disease, or GERD, is a chronic condition where your food doesn’t get digested due to a stomach acid imbalance. And this causes acid reflux to become a daily occurrence. As a result, the constant corrosive effect of the acid leads to heartburn.

Symptoms of GERD

  • Heartburn (burning in chest)
  • Sour taste in your mouth
  • Bad breath
  • Hoarse voice
  • Nausea
  • Pain or difficulty when swallowing
  • Feeling like you have a have a lump in your throat
  • Regurgitation of food or a sour liquid

And if you suffer from GERD at night, you may also experience the following symptoms:

  • Persistent cough
  • Poor sleep
  • Asthma
  • Laryngitis

GERD is more serious than heartburn, and can cause you to have other health complications if left unchecked.

Consequently, when you suffer from heartburn for a prolonged period, get no respite from antacids and home remedies, get yourself checked for GERD.

And in either case, whether you suffer from heartburn or GERD, medical attention can stop this problem from becoming more severe. Most people don’t get serious complications from GERD. But if left untreated, it can sometimes lead to:

  • Dental problems such as tooth enamel erosion and gun disease
  • Inflammation of the esophagus
  • Esophageal stricture – narrowing or tightening of your esophagus
  • Barrett’s esophagus – permanent changes to the lining of your esophagus

Causes of GERD and heartburn

The first step is to figure out what is causing your GERD and heartburn. It could be:

  • Lifestyle
  • Certain medical conditions
  • Obesity
  • Certain foods are known triggers for heartburn and GERD

Treatment of GERD and heartburn

difference between GERD and heartburn

Once you figure out the cause or your heartburn or GERD, you can look at treatment. There are a number of treatment options available to you, so your job is to find the ones that work best for you.

You can usually treat occasional heartburn with OTC antacids and lifestyle changes. But if these don’t work, or you need support to quit smoking, stop drinking alcohol or lose weight, seek medical advice.

Here are some common sense options for the treatment of GERD and heartburn:

Also, have a look at these alternative remedies for heartburn.

And on a final note…

By now you should understand the difference between GERD and heartburn. GERD is the underlying condition, with heartburn being a symptom of GERD.

See a doctor immediately of you have severe chest pain, especially if you also have pain in your arm or jaw or have difficulty breathing. Otherwise, see a doctor if you experience heartburn more than twice a week.

So, the sooner you look into treating GERD itself, the sooner you can cure your heartburn issues.