+65 9638 1751

Call Us

+65 6443 3133

Are heartburn and acid reflux the same?

If you’ve ever experienced a burning sensation in your chest after meals or while lying down, you might have wondered if it’s just heartburn or acid reflux. While these terms are often used interchangeably, they are not the same. Let’s explore heartburn and acid reflux to understand these common digestive issues. They are similar in some ways and different in others. By comparing the two, we can gain a better understanding of them.

What is Heartburn?

Heartburn is a symptom rather than a condition itself. It is a painful burning sensation that originates from the chest and moves up to the throat. The discomfort is caused by stomach acid flowing back into the oesophagus, the tube connecting the mouth and the stomach. While heartburn can be distressing, it is generally a short-term issue and is not a cause for major concern.

What is Acid Reflux?

Acid reflux, on the other hand, is a medical condition known as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). It occurs when the lower oesophagal sphincter, a ring-like muscle that separates the stomach from the oesophagus, weakens or relaxes inappropriately. As a result, stomach acid and digestive juices flow back into the oesophagus, leading to irritation and inflammation. Acid reflux is a chronic condition and can cause more frequent and severe symptoms compared to occasional heartburn.

Differences between Heartburn and Acid Reflux

It’s important to note that while both heartburn and acid reflux sounds similar, there are key differences between the two. Understanding their differences can help in the proper identification and management of the symptoms. Let’s explore the differences.

1. Occasional vs. Chronic

Heartburn is a temporary issue. It happens when you eat spicy or acidic foods, overeat, or lie down right after eating.

On the other hand, acid reflux (GERD) is a chronic condition caused by the weakening of the lower oesophagal sphincter. Acid reflux can become chronic, leading to severe and long-term discomfort. Medical evaluation and intervention may be needed for management.

2. Severity of Symptoms

While heartburn may cause mild to moderate discomfort, acid reflux (GERD) can lead to more severe symptoms such as chronic chest pain, difficulty swallowing, persistent cough, and even dental problems due to the exposure of teeth to stomach acid.

3. Need for Specialist Intervention

Most cases of occasional heartburn can be managed with lifestyle changes such as avoiding trigger foods, eating smaller meals, and maintaining an upright posture after eating. Taking over-the-counter medications like antacids or acid reducers may also relieve heartburn. However, acid reflux (GERD) often requires medical attention and evaluation by an acid reflux specialist or a gastroenterologist for a proper diagnosis and treatment plan.

4. Complications

Heartburn is not a serious issue. It can be managed with lifestyle adjustments and over-the-counter medications. This is because it does not happen often.

If acid reflux is not treated, it can lead to various health issues. These include inflammation of the oesophagus, ulcers, narrowing, precancerous changes in the lining, and an increased risk of oesophagal cancer.

How can you get rid of acid reflux/heartburn? Is there a cure?

If you get heartburn sometimes, try to avoid things that make it worse to feel better. Here are some tips on how you can prevent or manage heartburn and acid reflux:

  1. Avoid spicy, fatty, fried foods, carbonated beverages, citrus fruits, and caffeine.
  2. Eat smaller meals throughout the day instead of three large ones.
  3. Do not lie down immediately after a meal. Wait at least two hours before lying down.
  4. Raise the head of your bed by 6-8 inches to keep your head elevated while sleeping.
  5. Lose weight if you are overweight.
  6. Quit smoking and avoid or reduce alcohol consumption.
  7. Avoid tight-fitting clothing that can put pressure on the stomach.
  8. Manage stress through relaxation techniques like yoga, meditation, or deep breathing exercises.
  9. Consult a doctor to determine if any medications you are taking could be causing heartburn or acid reflux as a side effect.
  10. Seek medical attention if symptoms persist, become more frequent, or severe.

How can you get rid of acid reflux/heartburn? Is there a cure?

Proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) treat heartburn and acid reflux by reducing stomach acid production. While effective, they can cause side effects like headaches, nausea, and constipation. Use PPIs short-term (up to 8 weeks) and consult a doctor if symptoms persist. Combine PPIs with lifestyle changes for best results.

Antacids reduce stomach acids to relieve heartburn and acid reflux symptoms. Available in liquid and tablet forms, they can be purchased at local pharmacies. Follow the instructions carefully and limit to two doses per day to avoid side effects.

H2 blockers are medications used to treat acid reflux and heartburn by reducing stomach acid production. They help alleviate symptoms like burning and discomfort and are available both with and without a prescription.

Generally safe and well-tolerated, H2 blockers may cause side effects such as headaches and nausea. It’s important to follow your doctor’s instructions. However, H2 blockers do not treat the root of acid reflux.

Surgery may be needed if medication and lifestyle changes don’t help enough. It can strengthen the muscles in the lower esophageal sphincter for severe cases. These include:

  • Fundoplication: This surgery, performed using a laparoscope, is the most common procedure for treating GERD. Its aim is to increase pressure at the lower end of the esophagus, thereby reducing reflux. The surgery often results in immediate relief from acid reflux, and patients usually no longer need to depend on long-term medication.


  • Endoscopic techniques: Endoscopic sewing and radiofrequency are procedures that use an endoscope to tighten the sphincter muscle. While these newer techniques may be suitable for certain patients, they are often regarded as less effective than Fundoplication, which is widely considered the gold standard treatment for acid reflux.

If you often have heartburn or acid reflux symptoms, see a doctor or specialist right away. They can evaluate your condition and give you the right treatments. If you don’t see any improvement after taking antacids for two weeks, make sure to seek medical help.

In summary, knowing the distinction between heartburn and acid reflux is important for choosing the correct treatment. As both can be uncomfortable. You can control heartburn and acid reflux by changing your lifestyle and habits, allowing you to live comfortably. Consult with a doctor or specialist for personalised medical advice on how to manage your symptoms.

More Info

Enquire Now

Here at KYM Surgery, we believe in providing holistic & comprehensive medical care for all patients.

Emergency Calls Medical Care 24/7

Here at KYM Surgery, we believe in providing holistic & comprehensive medical care for all patients.