Heartburn and Acid Reflux: Differences and Causes

Are Heart Burn & Acid Reflux The Same Thing

According to statistics, about 20 percent of Americans experience heartburn at least one per month. Although many think acid reflux and heartburn are the same condition, they are, in fact, two different conditions.

Heartburn and Acid Reflux: Differences and Causes

Definition and Causes of Heartburn

Heartburn occurs due to excess stomach acid and usually follows ingestion of a meal. Although called heartburn, it actually has nothing to do with the heart but rather is a misfunction of the digestive system. However, the pain is similar to that of a heart attack and occurs in the thoracic cavity directly behind the breastbone. Lying supine or bending over can exacerbate the symptoms and increase the feeling that a heart attack is impending.

Factors that can contribute to heartburn include:

  • Eating spicy food
  • Eating too much food
  • Eating fried or fatty food
  • Foods high in acid
  • Large meals
  • Overweight
  • Smoking
  • Excessive alcohol intake

Mild, infrequent heartburn is no cause for alarm and can usually be alleviated by adjustments to diet and lifestyle and the use of over the counter medications. However, severe and frequent heartburn can be temporarily debilitating.

Experiencing frequent heartburn can indicate the presence of another condition and it might be wise to seek medical attention. Sometimes, frequent heartburn can indicate the presence of gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD, which can lead to more serious health complications and shouldn’t be ignored.

If the symptoms of heartburn include pain in the jaw or the arm or difficulty breathing, it may, in fact, be signaling a heart attack. In this case, seek medical attention immediately and without delay.

Definition and Causes of Acid Reflux Disease

Acid reflux occurs when stomach acid erupts from the stomach into the esophagus. Symptoms include:

  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Sour taste in the mouth
  • Coughing
  • Wheezing
  • Chest pain
  • Inability to lie supine

As with occasional heartburn, occasional acid reflux is not a cause for concern and can usually be alleviated by over the counter medications such as:

  • Tums
  • Tagamet
  • Pepcid
  • Prilosec

and so forth, as well as minor changes to diet, lifestyle, and eating habits. The same factors that trigger heartburn also trigger acid reflux.

Frequent episodes of acid reflux can indicate the presence of GERD and may indicate the necessity for medical attention. GERD can be treated with prescription medication or surgery but left untreated can lead to more serious conditions.

Treatments for Heartburn and Acid Reflux

Chronic acid reflux, GERD, or heartburn can be treated with Stretta, a non-surgical procedure that is performed on an out-patient basis in about an hour. Stretta uses radiofrequency treatment to narrow the walls of the lower esophagus and multiple treatments may be required. It’s typically used for those whose acid reflux, GERD, or heartburn is not well controlled by medication. It’s effective for up to 10 years and lacks the side effects that sometimes occur with traditional drug therapy.

Several types of laparoscopic surgeries are available for treatment of chronic and severe GERD, acid reflux, and heartburn. The type of laparoscopic surgery to be performed varies depending on the individual and his or her specific health issues. Although not always as effective as traditional surgery for these conditions, laparoscopy doesn’t involve hospitalization or general anesthesia.

Inpatient surgery is also an option for treatment but requires general anesthesia and hospitalization.


It’s unnecessary to suffer from any of these conditions when there are so many treatment options available. Whether acute or chronic, it’s possible to live without the pain and discomfort of acid reflux, heartburn, or GERD.

NOTE: The above is intended for informational purposes only and is not intended to dispense medical advice or diagnose any medical attention.