Difference between Heartburn and Acid Reflux
Key Difference: Heartburn is a condition in which a person experiences a burning sensation or pain in the chest or just behind the breastbone. This burning sensation is caused by acid reflux or when the digestive acid flows up into the esophagus. Acid reflux is a condition when the lower esophageal sphincter (LES), the one-way valve referred to above relaxes allowing the digestive acid in the stomach to flow backwards into the esophagus.
Heartburn and acid reflux are two similar conditions but are different in nature. These two often confuse many people who believe that acid reflux and heartburn are actually one and the same. Have you ever gotten that burning sensation in the chest when you lie down after a heavy meal? Well, that is heartburn. Now, what is acid reflux? Acid reflux is the when the acid from your stomach flow through to the esophagus. You will most likely not feel that. Acid reflux is the disease, while heartburn is a symptom of a result of acid reflux. Confused? Let’s try and understand both separately.
Heartburn is a condition in which a person experiences a burning sensation or pain in the chest or just behind the breastbone. This burning sensation is caused by acid reflux or when the digestive acid flows up into the esophagus. The acid irritates the esophagus lining causing irritation and uneasiness to the person. Heartburn is also known as pyrosis, cardialgia, or acid indigestion. When a person eats food, the stomach is similar to a one way valve, which opens when food is supposed to go into the stomach. This valve keeps the stomach acid from flowing upwards and irritating the other organs. However, certain foods, medications, nicotine or lying down too quickly after a meal and excess weight, can cause the muscle that acts a blocking valve to relax. The relaxation causes the valve to open and allows the digestive acid to flow upward, causing heartburn.
Symptoms of heartburn include: burning feeling (in the chest or behind the breast bone), chest pain, burning in the throat, hot-sour or acidic taste in the back of the throat, difficulty swallowing, feeling of sickness or nausea, feeling of food sticking in the middle of chest or throat, coughing, sore throat, etc. Other rare symptoms include pain in the back, jaw, shoulders, neck or arms.
Acid reflux is a condition when the lower esophageal sphincter (LES), the one-way valve referred to above relaxes allowing the digestive acid in the stomach to flow backwards into the esophagus. Normally, the LES closes as soon as the food goes through it into the stomach and the pressure created by digestion helps seal the LES even further. However, under certain conditions, the LES does not always work in the way it should. When the LES relaxes, it allows the digestive acid to rise and go into the esophagus. This is what acid reflux is. It does not produce any burning sensations and most of the time the person would not even feel the acid flowing back up.
Acid reflux and heartburn are common conditions and can occur as frequently has once a week for some people. However, any more than one per week can point to a much serious disease known as gastroesophageal reflux disease or GERD. GERD is a chronic disease where acid constantly flow from the stomach to the lower esophagus, thus burning the esophagus. Long-term GERD can result in Barrett's esophagus. Barrett's esophagus is a condition where the color and composition of the esophagus change due to constant exposure to digestive acid. Barrett’s can in-turn cause esophageal cancer. Heartburn can also be caused by other conditions such as inflamed stomach lining, peptic ulcer or a hiatal hernia.
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