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Heartburn or GERD: What’s the Difference?

Medically reviewed by Jobelle Ann Dela Cruz Bigalbal, MD · General Practitioner

Written by Jan Alwyn Batara · Updated May 25, 2021

Heartburn or GERD: What’s the Difference?

If you’ve ever found yourself asking “Do I have heartburn or GERD’?, you’ll know that it’s easy to mistake one for the other. After all, their symptoms are very similar, and both of them are indeed closely related.

However, it is important to know the difference between heartburn and GERD. This is mainly because these conditions are treated differently, and in the case of GERD, it can cause severe problems if left untreated.

Do I have heartburn or GERD?

In order to understand the difference between heartburn and GERD, we need to talk about what these conditions are.

What is heartburn?

Heartburn is a burning sensation in a person’s chest, usually right behind the breastbone. It can be very painful, and the pain usually radiates upward towards the throat.

Heartburn is a symptom of a condition called acid reflux. Acid reflux is a condition that causes stomach acids to go up into the esophagus. This stomach acid is the reason why whenever you experience heartburn, you feel a burning sensation in your chest.

Acid reflux can happen due to a variety of reasons, including the following:

  • Eating a large amount of food right before sleeping.
  • Pregnant women and people who are obese or overweight tend to have acid reflux.
  • Chocolate, spicy foods, tomatoes, and acidic foods can also cause acid reflux.
  • Drinking alcohol, coffee, and soda are also some causes of acid reflux.
  • Certain medicines, such as those used to manage blood pressure, can also trigger acid reflux.

For the most part, heartburn and acid reflux should not be a cause for concern. In fact, millions of people worldwide experience heartburn at least once a month. However, the problem is when heartburn starts to become a regular occurrence.

8 Common Questions About Heartburn, Answered

What is GERD?

If a person frequently experiences heartburn, or has chronic acid reflux, then it could be a sign that the person has GERD or gastroesophageal reflux disease.

A person is said to have GERD if they experience heartburn at least two times a week. Because of this, the esophagus can get irritated due to constantly being exposed to stomach acids.

People with GERD also experience much more severe and painful cases of heartburn, and if left untreated, it can cause serious problems.

Here are some of the possible complications of GERD:

  • Narrowing of the esophagus as a result of a buildup of scar tissue.
  • GERD can also cause ulcers in the stomach.
  • Barrett’s esophagus or a condition that causes changes in the cells of the esophagus. Barrett’s esophagus is a risk factor for esophageal cancer.

Asthma has also been associated with GERD. In fact, 75% of people with asthma have some form of GERD. Despite this, the link between the two health conditions is still unclear.

However, GERD does make the symptoms of asthma worse, and some asthma medication can cause GERD to get worse. Additionally, getting treated for GERD can help ease some of the symptoms associated with asthma.

If you think that you might have GERD, it would be a good idea to talk to your doctor about it. Getting treatment as soon as possible can help you avoid any further complications.

How can you tell if you have heartburn or GERD?

Here is a checklist of things that would help you answer the question of “Do i have heartburn or GERD’?

You have heartburn if:

  • You experience heartburn at least once a month.
  • The burning sensation is painful, but it can be tolerated.
  • It usually happens after eating, or when you are lying down or in bed.

You have GERD if:

  • You feel as if you have a lump in your throat.
  • Heartburn usually happens to you on a weekly basis.
  • The heartburn you are experiencing is more severe.
  • You sometimes wake up at night because of heartburn.
  • You also experience chronic cough, hoarseness, or wheezing, which are also symptoms associated with GERD.
  • Swallowing food is difficult for you.
  • Whenever you eat sour foods or drink sour liquids, it tends to regurgitate or flow back up to your throat.

This is just a simple guide that can help you identify if you are just experiencing heartburn, or if it has progressed into GERD.

Of course, it would be best to consult your doctor if you are worried about your symptoms. Your doctor can give you a proper diagnosis and help you with the proper treatment for your condition.

What can you do about heartburn and GERD?

Here are some things that you can do to help manage heartburn or GERD:

  • Avoid eating late at night, especially before going to sleep.
  • Hold back on eating spicy, sour, and fatty foods.
  • If you are obese or overweight, try and take steps to lower your weight.
  • Antacids can sometimes help prevent heartburn and GERD from occurring.
  • For more serious cases of GERD, you can buy H-2-receptor blockers which are drugs that reduce the amount of acid produced in the stomach.
  • Avoid drinking alcohol, coffee, or carbonated drinks.
  • Drinking water can sometimes help ease the pain of heartburn.
  • Do not hesitate to visit your doctor if you experience severe symptoms or pain because of heartburn.
  • When it comes to heartburn and GERD, the best thing to do would be to closely monitor your symptoms. This can help you identify if you might be suffering from GERD, or if it is just a simple case of heartburn.

    Learn more about digestive health, here.


    Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

    Medically reviewed by

    Jobelle Ann Dela Cruz Bigalbal, MD

    General Practitioner

    Written by Jan Alwyn Batara · Updated May 25, 2021

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