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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 the definitions of heartburn and acid reflux, their similarities, and their differences to gain a better understanding of these common digestive issues.

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 usually a temporary symptom that occurs after certain trigger factors like consuming spicy or acidic foods, overeating, or lying down immediately after a meal. On the other hand, acid reflux (GERD) is a chronic condition caused by the weakening of the lower oesophagal sphincter. The chronic nature of acid reflux (GERD) can cause more severe and long-term discomfort, requiring medical evaluation and intervention for proper 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

Due to the occasional nature of heartburn, it is generally considered to be harmless and can be managed with lifestyle changes and over-the-counter medications. Acid reflux (GERD), however, If left untreated, can lead to complications like esophagitis (inflammation of the oesophagus), oesophagal ulcers, strictures (narrowing of the oesophagus), Barrett’s oesophagus (precancerous changes in the oesophagal lining), and an increased risk of oesophagal cancer.

In conclusion, heartburn and acid reflux are related but distinct digestive issues. Heartburn is a symptom of stomach acid moving into the oesophagus, typically caused by certain triggers and is short-term in nature. On the other hand, acid reflux (GERD) is a chronic condition arising from a weakened oesophagal sphincter, leading to frequent and more severe symptoms. Understanding these differences can help individuals take appropriate steps to manage their digestive health and seek timely medical advice when needed.



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