The Differences Between Heartburn and GERD

When it comes to feeling a burning sensation in a person’s throat, there’s many names for it. Heartburn, Acid Reflux and GERD are often used interchangeably. This can be very common in medical terms when one symptom is dominant of a condition.


It also happens when multiple conditions seem to have the exact same symptoms.

People who suffer from Heartburn know that it’s no picnic. Most people suffer from it fairly chronically. Heartburn and GERD typically come about when people eat certain foods. Spicy foods are well known to give many people issues with heartburn. While it’s often a minor issue dealt with easily with some over the counter products, the chronic version can become a hassle and be a sign of some serious issues. What follows is a way to help determine the differences between the terms.

What is Heartburn?

Despite the name, this issue doesn’t occur in or have anything to do with the heart. Heartburn is a digestive issue that is common  and occurs in the esophagus. Most people think of heartburn as a minor burning feeling that occurs in the esophagus after they’ve eaten poorly or too much of foods that cause it. That can be true, but it can also be much more.

One of the interesting things about heartburn is that people often experienced it in similar but different ways. Get 10 people into a room and they will all describe their heartburn in slightly different terms. Their heartburn feeling may seem like it’s coming from the breastbone, neck, throat or closer to the stomach as well. Part of this is because while eating food is the most common reason to get it, it can also occur simply from people who lie down or bend over. The change in position can lead to heartburn taking the opportunity to strike.

What is Acid Reflux?

As mentioned earlier, all three terms are often used interchangeably. Acid Reflux is the main cause of heartburn. It all has to do with the lower sphincter within the esophagus. When someone suffers from acid reflux, this sphincter doesn’t close correctly. When it’s not tightened, it’s very easy for stomach acid to push itself up the esophagus and cause heartburn.

How is GERD Different from Heartburn?

When someone suffers from acid reflux chronically for an extended feeling of time, they will be diagnosed with GERD. The dangers of GERD are many. People who suffer from it deal with long term and often irreversible damage to the esophagus. It can even lead to throat cancers. Unlike standard heartburn, basic over the counter medications may not work to alleviate the issues. There are also other symptoms of GERD aside from heartburn. These are:

  • Bad Breath
  • Chest Pain
  • Asthma
  • Issues Swallowing
  • Enamel Damage on Teeth

Unlike the short term causes of heartburn, GERD tends to be caused by long term issues like smoking, being obese or suffering from a hiatal hernia. Since these can be disruptive, doctors will typically recommend lifestyle changes to correct the issues. This may involve fixing their diet and losing some weight, as well as giving up bad habits like alcohol or smoking.