When it comes to acid reflux vs heartburn, you might think they’re the same thing. A lot of people can’t really tell the difference. But they’re not the same. Are you experiencing symptoms involving your stomach and esophagus? Here’s how to tell whether it’s acid reflux or heartburn.

How Can You Tell Acid Reflux and Heartburn Apart?

The explanation is relatively simple. Acid reflux occurs when acid secretion from the stomach comes up into the esophagus. Heartburn is one of the symptoms of reflux. And it’s a common one: about one in five people in the U.S. will experience heartburn at some point.1

Acid Reflux

Causes of Acid Reflux

Acid reflux occurs when the esophageal sphincter doesn’t work properly. This is a muscle located in-between the esophagus and stomach. If it is weakened, that leads to stomach acid moving up into the oesophageal tube.2

Now, lots of things can increase your chances of developing acid reflux. These are just a few reasons people can develop reflux symptoms.

Foods – Many people suffer reflux symptoms after eating certain kinds of foods. Pain in the stomach or esophagus can occur after eating foods such as onions or tomatoes. Fatty foods can make the esophageal sphincter relax. This leads to regurgitation of acid from the stomach to the esophagus.3

acid reflux vs heartburn | Westwood WellnessObesity – If you’re obese, you might also be at a higher risk of experiencing reflux symptoms. Added fat, some researchers believe, puts pressure on the stomach. This leads to stomach acid coming up into the esophagus.4

Hiatal Hernia – A hiatal hernia occurs when part of the stomach pushes up into the esophagus. When this happens, the esophageal sphincter can’t close. Stomach acid will move into the esophagus as a result, and acid reflux symptoms may occur.5

Symptoms of Acid Reflux

Do you have difficulty swallowing, pain in the stomach, or a sore throat? You may be experiencing digestive issues associated with acid reflux. You might also experience regurgitation of food or a sour taste in your mouth.6

Many people with reflux have a burning sensation in the stomach when lying down. Other symptoms include chest pain and hoarseness. You may also experience a burning sensation when you bend over.7

When to See a Doctor

Acid reflux symptoms can sometimes signify a serious digestive issue. For example, if you’re losing weight without trying, or your stools are black or red, see a doctor. You should also see a doctor as soon as possible if you vomit blood, or your vomit looks like coffee grounds.8


Causes of Heartburn

Eating tomato-based foods, citrus fruits, or spicy foods can lead to the symptoms of heartburn. Stomach acid can move into the esophagus after bypassing the esophageal sphincter muscle. That can irritate the esophagus and lead to a burning sensation in the chest.9

Symptoms of Heartburn

If you have a mild case of heartburn, you’ll probably have symptoms about once a month. Symptoms might go away after you take antacids. If you have it nearly every day, that is known as chronic heartburn. Either way, you’ll typically have the same kinds of symptoms.

These include the following:

  • acid reflux vs heartburn | Westwood WellnessSore throat
  • Bad breath
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • A feeling of having food stuck in your throat
  • Hoarseness
  • Stomach pain

If you have stomach pain that’s centered right under the breastbone, that could be a sign of a serious problem.

The same is true if you vomit blood. That could mean you have some sort of bleeding in your digestive system. See your doctor right away.10

Pay Attention to Your Symptoms

Both acid reflux and heartburn can sometimes lead to serious health issues if not addressed by a doctor. Certain symptoms are especially alarming. These include chest pain, a dry cough, and, as mentioned earlier, pain in the upper area of the stomach.

If you have any of these symptoms, seek medical attention as soon as possible.11

When considering acid reflux vs heartburn, the differences really don’t matter all that much if you’re miserable. If you’re continually experiencing sore throat and other symptoms, and antacids don’t work, see your doctor.

Get on With Your Life

As you can see, there are a few differences regarding acid reflux vs heartburn. For one, heartburn is a symptom of acid reflux.

If you have symptoms of a problem involving your esophagus and stomach, it can really affect your quality of life. It could also mean something is wrong with your small intestine or another part of your digestive tract. Acid secretion can seriously damage your esophagus.

Taking antacids won’t do anything more than provide a temporary solution. See a doctor if you have chronic acid reflux or chronic heartburn. Doing so could help you finally find the relief you’ve been looking for!

Learn More:
Upset Stomach? Ask Yourself These Questions
How the GI Tract Works (And What Happens When Heartburn Occurs)
What Causes Burping?

1 https://www.piedmont.org/living-better/whats-the-difference-between-heartburn-and-reflux
2 https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/treatments/4354-laparoscopic-antireflux-surgery
3 https://www.health.com/heartburn/acid-reflux-causes
4 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2827866/
5 https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/articles/7018-gerd–hiatal-hernia-and-heartburn
6 https://www.livescience.com/34727-gerd-heartburn-symptoms-treatment.html
7 https://badgut.org/information-centre/a-z-digestive-topics/gerd/
8 https://www.gastro.org/practice-guidance/gi-patient-center/topic/gastroesophageal-reflux-disease-gerd
9 https://familydoctor.org/condition/heartburn/
10 https://healthy.kaiserpermanente.org/health-wellness/health-encyclopedia/he.heartburn.hrtbn
11 https://www.susquehannahealth.org/in-the-community/blog/keep-an-eye-on-recurring-heartburn#