ZocdocAnswersAre heartburn and acid reflux the same thing?

Question

Are heartburn and acid reflux the same thing?

If I have heartburn, is this acid reflux? I get it a few days a week and it is starting to become a problem. Is acid reflux a disease that is different from heartburn or are they the same thing?

Answer

Acid reflux is considered to be the process that ultimately leads to the experience of heartburn, though many people use the terms "acid reflux" and "heartburn" interchangeably. Relaxation of the lower esophageal sphincter allows the reflux of the acidic contents of the stomach to creep up the lower portion of the esophagus and irritate its mucosal lining. While heartburn may be the only symptom that one particular person experiences, this process of reflux can also lead to coughing, a sour acidic taste in the mouth, a sensation of a foreign body in the throat, and difficulty or painful swallowing. Patients that suffer from heartburn can often identify triggers that exacerbate symptoms, such as spicy or hot foods and beverages. Non-medicinal treatments such as avoidance of triggers, avoidance of late-night meals, and sleeping on more than one pillow at night can be very helpful in alleviating heartburn. For persistent symptoms, there are very potent acid-suppressing medications (such as proton pump inhibitors) that are available both over-the-counter and by prescription. If you are having any chest pain at all, however, you should seek out the care of your doctor to confirm a diagnosis of acid reflux and rule out other causes of pain.

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