February 09, 2022 6 min read

Acid reflux is a condition that many people around the world struggle with. The condition is characterized by incidents where your stomach contents surge upward into the esophagus. This can create a great deal of discomfort and lead to chest pain, coughing, nausea, and other issues. Most notably, heartburn is often linked with acid reflux. This begs the question: is acid reflux the same as heartburn?

While acid reflux and heartburn aren’t the same thing, they are closely related. In short, heartburn is a symptom of acid reflux. When stomach acid flows into the esophagus, this can cause a burning sensation in the middle of one’s chest, below the sternum.

To learn more about what acid reflux and heartburn are, including how you can treat them, read this article from start to finish. Alternatively, you can use the links below to skip to any section of the article.

What Is Acid Reflux?

Acid reflux is a condition where one’s stomach contents escape from the stomach itself and surge into the esophagus, causing discomfort and irritation. Oftentimes, acid reflux will cause one to experience heartburn, coughing, chest pains, or other symptoms. The chronic form of acid reflux is known as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).

Symptoms of acid reflux graphic

Symptoms

Common symptoms of acid reflux include:

  • Heartburn
  • Pain in the middle of your chest
  • A sour or bitter taste at the back of your throat
  • Nausea
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Coughing or hoarseness

Causes

Acid reflux is typically caused by a dysfunctioning lower esophageal sphincter (LES), which is a ring of muscles that opens to allow food to pass from your esophagus to your stomach. After food passes, a normally functioning LES will close in order to prevent stomach contents from being regurgitated. However, if there’s an issue with your LES, it may not close properly, thus allowing stomach acid to seep into your esophagus.

In general, a dysfunctioning LES is the root cause of acid reflux. However, a variety of factors can cause issues with your LES, irritate your stomach, and ultimately trigger acid reflux. Your diet, physical health, and sleeping posture can all play a role in triggering symptoms of acid reflux.

Girl eating fried chicken

As far as diet is concerned, the following foods are commonly known to be acid reflux triggers:

  • Spicy foods
  • Fried or fatty foods
  • Citrus fruits
  • Garlic
  • Onions
  • Tomato-based foods
  • Cheese
  • Processed snacks
  • Mint
  • Chocolate
  • Coffee and tea
  • Alcohol
  • Carbonated drinks

Diet is a major risk factor when it comes to acid reflux, but it’s not the only element at play. For example, those who are pregnant or overweight are at a higher risk of experiencing acid reflux since the extra weight places pressure on the stomach and can force stomach acid into the esophagus.

Diagnosis

Acid reflux is a common condition that many people deal with on a regular basis. In many cases, individuals can recognize the symptoms of acid reflux as they occur. However, if you experience chronic or severe acid reflux that begins to interfere with your day-to-day life, then it may be time to see a doctor.

A doctor can assess your symptoms and run tests to see if there’s an underlying condition responsible for your chronic bouts of acid reflux. They may also run tests—such as an x-ray examination, endoscopy, ambulatory acid probe test, or esophageal pH monitoring—to see if you have GERD.  

Acid reflux treatment graphic

Treatment

There are a variety of treatment methods aimed at addressing the symptoms of acid reflux. Some of the most common methods used to treat acid reflux and prevent heartburn include:

  • Medication: Certain medications can effectively minimize the symptoms of acid reflux. For instance, antacids, acid blockers, and proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) are regularly used to treat acid reflux. Speak to your doctor before taking any acid reflux medication.

Dietary changes: Certain foods, like the ones listed above, are known to trigger acid reflux. In addition to avoiding those foods, you might also change your eating habits and incorporate gut-friendly foods into your diet. Consider eating smaller meals more frequently throughout the day and try to eat more leafy vegetables, noncitrus fruits, lean meats, and healthy fats. 

Woman running

  • Lifestyle adjustments: A number of other lifestyle adjustments may prove effective in easing your acid reflux. For instance, being overweight can put pressure on your stomach and lead to more frequent acid reflux. Thus, losing weight can help reduce episodes of acid reflux. Other adjustments, such as quitting smoking and cutting down on your alcohol consumption, can also help to minimize acid reflux.
  • Sleeping position: Nighttime acid reflux can be especially disruptive because gravity isn’t able to return stomach acid to your stomach as easily when you’re lying down. Thus, when you experience nighttime acid reflux, stomach acid can irritate your esophageal lining for longer than usual. In this case, you can adjust your sleeping position so you’re sleeping on your left side at an incline. By using MedCline’s Reflux Relief System, you can stay comfortable and prevent acid reflux all night long.

Remember that it’s always a good idea to consult with your doctor about potential treatment methods for acid reflux. Your doctor will be able to evaluate your health and suggest medications, diet plans, and exercise regimens that work with your lifestyle.

What is heartburn? graphic

What Is Heartburn?

If you’re wondering whether heartburn is the same thing as acid reflux, the important distinction to note is that heartburn is a symptom of acid reflux. This means that heartburn is not a condition in and of itself but merely a sign that stomach acid is entering your esophagus and causing irritation.

When you experience heartburn, you typically feel a burning or painful sensation in the middle of your chest, around your sternum. Heartburn is often an uncomfortable and unpleasant sensation that can last for minutes or, in some cases, even hours.

So, what causes heartburn? As we said before, it’s a symptom of acid reflux. When stomach acid surges into your esophagus, it can cause irritation because, unlike your stomach lining, your esophageal lining isn’t designed to hold your stomach’s acidic contents.

Frequently Asked Questions

What’s the difference between heartburn and acid reflux?

While heartburn and acid reflux are closely related, they’re not quite the same thing. Heartburn is merely a symptom of acid reflux. Acid reflux is a condition where your stomach contents bypass your lower esophageal sphincter (LES) and seep into your esophagus, causing discomfort that often manifests as heartburn.

Is acid reflux also called heartburn?

People will often use the terms acid reflux and heartburn interchangeably—and that’s understandable, considering the two are so closely linked to one another. However, the truth is that acid reflux and heartburn aren’t the same thing. Acid reflux is the underlying condition and heartburn is one of the symptoms.

How do I know if I have acid reflux?

To determine whether you have acid reflux, watch out for common symptoms. Symptoms of acid reflux include:

  • Heartburn
  • Pain in the middle of your chest
  • A sour or bitter taste at the back of your throat
  • Nausea
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Coughing or hoarseness

Wrapping Up

So, is acid reflux disease the same as heartburn? The answer is no—heartburn is simply one symptom of acid reflux. While the two aren’t the same thing, you can minimize heartburn by treating your acid reflux. Through medications, dietary changes, lifestyle adjustments, or even a change in your sleeping position, you can prevent acid reflux from interfering with your life.

While addressing acid reflux in general is important, remember that nighttime acid reflux can be especially dangerous because it can damage your esophageal lining and disrupt your sleep schedule. If you want to take action and eliminate nighttime acid reflux, try MedCline’s Reflux Relief System.

The Reflux Relief System is a three-component sleep system that keeps you in the ideal position for preventing acid reflux at night. It’s a clinically proven system, evidenced by the fact that 95% of MedCline users report better sleep after using it. To learn more about the Reflux Relief System or any of our other specialized products, chat with one of our Sleep Specialists today.

References:

  1. “Acid Reflux (GER & GERD) in Adults.” National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/digestive-diseases/acid-reflux-ger-gerd-adults.
  2. Gabbard, Scott. “What’s the Difference Between Heartburn, Acid Reflux and GERD?” Cleveland Clinic, Cleveland Clinic, 27 Nov. 2019, https://health.clevelandclinic.org/whats-the-difference-between-heartburn-acid-reflux-and-gerd/.
  3. “Symptoms & Causes of GER & GERD.” National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, July 2020, https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/digestive-diseases/acid-reflux-ger-gerd-adults/symptoms-causes.


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