Acid Reflux vs Heartburn – Are They The Same?

Because these terms are often used to mean the same symptoms, you may be wondering if they are actually the same or if there are differences between acid reflux and heartburn.

The quick answer is that they are similar (that’s where the confusion comes from), but they are not the same.

So, let’s have a look at acid reflux vs heartburn, and learn how to distinguish them.

Difference Between Acid Reflux and Heartburn

In order to understand the difference between acid reflux and heartburn, first we need to understand what these terms really mean.

What is Acid Reflux?

This is a very common medical condition and the severity of it depends on the particular case.


The circular muscle, referred to as the lower esophageal sphincter (LES), becomes weak or works irregularly.

The LES is located between the esophagus and the stomach.

Its main purpose is to close the esophagus after the food enters the stomach: this results with the stomach acid moving backwards into the esophagus (reflux). 

The esophagus and its lining is even more delicate than the stomach lining. This is the main reason behind the burning symptom felt in the chest.

This sensation is what we call heartburn.

What is Heartburn?

HeartburnThe burning sensation experienced by people who suffer from acid reflux disease and GERD is called heartburn. It is the main symptom of both conditions and may range from mild to severe chest pain.

Usually this symptom occurs after consuming a meal

It feels tight and burning, and simple activities such as bending over and lying down can make it worse.

There are certain foods that can worsen the experience too. I have once consumed caffeine when in pain, without knowing how much it could worsen my heartburn symptoms.

Some other things to avoid are energy and soft drinks, and even snacks.

You must wonder: why the name heartburn?

This is actually misleading as the heart has absolutely no connection to the pain. The reason why this name is given is because it is often mistaken with a heart attack.

The American College of Gastroenterology came to the conclusion that over 60 million Americans experience heartburn monthly.

Common Heartburn Treatments

There are several remedies used to manage heartburn such as

  • Losing weight
  • Eating healthy, and
  • Other changes of lifestyle

Additionally, certain medications can also be used as a type of treatment.

However, consulting a doctor is highly recommended. Heartburn can be a symptom for something more serious such as acid reflux or even GERD.

Difference Between Acid Reflux and GERD

GERD may be a new term for you, as it has been for me. But right now, you have realized that is somehow related to acid reflux and heartburn, but…

What is GERD?

GERD - GatroEsophageal Reflux Disease
GERD, the chronic version of acid reflux

GERD (GastroEsophageal Reflux Disease) is the chronic variant of acid reflux, usually diagnosed when acid reflux occurs more frequently than usual. Additionally, a doctor may confirm GERD diagnosiswhen they notice esophagus swelling.

GERD cannot be relived with over-the counter medication, unlike acid reflux.

The symptoms are common and also include heartburn. A person experiencing chronic acid reflux will also feel many other symptoms. These include:

  • Chest pain
  • Dry cough, and even
  • Asthma

The treatment for this condition is more complicated than the one for the acid reflux, because it may even be a combination of lifestyle changes, medications and surgery.

The acid, in these case, can damage the esophagus lining if not treated. This can result in ulcers, scarring and bleeding.

Additionally, if not treated for a long time, it can cause a esophagus cells changes. This is also referred to as Barrett’s esophagus.

Heartburn and Acid Reflux During Pregnancy

The majority of women report heartburn symptoms during pregnancy. The most severe pain occurs during the second and third trimester.

Acid Reflux During PregnancyHormones are the main reason for the developing of heartburn and acid reflux in pregnant women.

The hormones of a pregnant woman change enormously and this can affect the digestive tract.

Additionally, hormones can cause the esophageal sphincter to relax. When this happens, the acids splash into the esophagus and cause heartburn.

Women with more enlarged uterus i.e. in developed stage of pregnancy feel more severe pain. The uterus crowds the abdomen and actually pushes the stomach acids upwards.

Since heartburn is the main symptom of acid reflux, pregnant women should go see a doctor if they also experience pain. If heartburn persists, seeing a doctor is a definite must.


The difference between acid reflux and heartburn is a very commonly misunderstood subject.

These terms are related, but should not be mixed.

What you may have learned today about acid reflux vs heartburn is that acid reflux is the disease, while heartburn is more like the final symptom.

But, you should immediately go see a doctor if you feel heartburn. Remember, it may be more serious than just acid reflux.

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