Heartburn and GERD Are Not the Same

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Heartburn and GERD

A lot of people think that “heartburn” and “GERD” are the same, but these two conditions are different, both in treatment and severity. Read further and learn the differences between heartburn and GERD.

What is heartburn?

Heartburn is characterized by a mild to severe chest pain that is felt after eating a meal. It is often felt as a tightening or burning sensation that is made worse by lying down or bending over. Don’t get confused with the term “heartburn” as this condition is not related to the heart.

Heartburn affects the digestive system, particularly the esophagus – the tube that connects the mouth and the stomach where food is passed. In heartburn, the circular muscle (lower esophageal sphincter) that controls the closing of esophagus after food has passed becomes weakened and is unable to close properly. The acid from the stomach goes into the esophagus, causing a burning sensation in the chest. Some mistake heartburn as symptom of heart attack because of its proximity to the heart.

This condition is quite common. Many people experience heartburn at some point in their lives, usually right after feasting or at bedtime. Normally, antacids can help relieve heartburn. Lifestyle modifications such as losing weight, avoiding acidic or spicy foods, and staying upright while eating can help prevent heartburn. This condition can affect anyone but is more common among pregnant women.

What is GERD

Gastrointestinal reflux disease (GERD) is a more serious condition. Just like heartburn, GERD is caused by the backflow of stomach contents to the esophagus due to problems with the lower esophageal sphincter. Unlike heartburn, GERD occurs more frequently (one to two times a week) and the pain isn’t relieved with antacids or other OTC medications.

GERD leads to symptoms:

  • the feeling of stomach contents regurgitating up to the throat or mouth
  • heartburn
  • asthma-like symptoms
  • dry cough
  • chest pain
  • difficulty swallowing

GERD symptoms can cause so much discomfort that it tends to affect the person’s activities of daily living. Doctors often prescribe medications, alongside lifestyle medications such as smoking cessation, weight loss, and diet change. These prescription medications reduce the amount of gastric acid. In some cases, surgery may be performed to strengthen the LES.

GERD can lead to complications if left untreated. Gastric acid can erode the esophageal lining causing ulcers, bleeding, or scarring, which can result in trouble swallowing. Over time, exposure to the acid cause change in the esophagus. This condition is called Barrett’s esophagus, a precursor of fatal esophageal cancer.

Knowing the differences between heartburn and GERD is essential to get accurate treatment. Visit your healthcare provider if you have frequent heartburns or if your heartburn is not relieved by OTC medications. If your heartburn symptoms are accompanied by pain in your jaw or arm along with chest pain, call 9-1-1 right away as these symptoms suggest heart-related emergencies.

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