What Does Heartburn Feel Like?

How does heartburn differ from GERD, indigestion, dyspepsia, and gastritis – and what does heartburn feel like?

“Heartburn” is not a medical term, however it is among the most typically used words to explain symptoms of the upper intestinal tract. An estimated 20 to 40 percent of adults report having chronic heartburn. With this many people frequently suffering, you would think most people would be able to respond to, “What does heartburn seem like?” But lots of people are confused about what heartburn seems like and how it varies from indigestion, reflux, and other common stomach-related symptoms and medical conditions.

That burning, irritating experience in your chest: What’s behind it? Our author responds to the concern “What does heartburn feel like?” while offering suggestions on how to figure out whether that’s really what’s triggering your discomfort.

A few of my patients have incorrectly named what they’re experiencing as heartburn, when, in reality, their symptoms were something else. Understanding what heartburn feels like is important, given that both heartburn itself and symptoms that may be mistaken for heartburn can be signs of a severe health problem.

So What Does Heartburn Feel Like?

Heartburn, often called acid reflux or acid indigestion, most often seems like pain or burning in the middle of the chest (behind the breast bone). The pain may likewise be located in the upper abdomen or rise up to the throat or neck. The discomfort is worse after meals, in a reclining position, or when flexing over.

Heartburn is brought on by relaxation of the valve that separates the lower esophagus from the stomach– the lower esophageal sphincter – which allows stomach contents to get in and irritate the esophagus. For this reason, heartburn is often related to regurgitation, an acid or bitter taste in the mouth triggered by food or liquid coming back up into your mouth from the stomach.

Heartburn is the most common reason for chest pain, accounting for approximately 50 percent of cases. The chest pain of heartburn can be so severe that patients incorrectly believe they are having a cardiac arrest. Sometimes, advanced screening is needed to figure out if the chest pain is because of heartburn or to a heart attack or heart condition.

How Does Heartburn Relate to GERD, Indigestion, Dyspepsia, and Gastritis?

Indigestion is another non-medical term used to explain a variety of different symptoms, consisting of heartburn and regurgitation, related to the upper gastrointestinal tract. In addition to heartburn and regurgitation, the term indigestion is typically used to explain stomach-related pain or pain, which is likewise described as dyspepsia.

Dyspepsia might explain series of symptoms, which may include:

  • Upper abdominal pain, burning, or discomfort.
  • Fullness after eating/early satiety.
  • Queasiness after eating.
  • Retching and/or vomiting.
  • Heartburn.
  • Belching.
  • Stomach bloating.

Gastritis is the medical term for inflammation of the stomach. It is defined by pain in the upper abdominal area and other dyspepsia symptoms. Gastritis is most typically brought on by infection with Helicobacter pylori, the bacteria that also causes ulcers; medications, particularly aspirin and anti-inflammatory drugs; and alcohol.

Gastro esophageal reflux disease (GERD) establishes when chronic reflux of stomach contents causes frustrating symptoms (like heartburn and regurgitation) and/or complications (like cancer of the esophagus). Heartburn is the most typical symptom of GERD, however not everyone with GERD has heartburn. Together with heartburn and regurgitation, people with GERD may experience symptoms of dyspepsia such as stomach pain, nausea, bloating, and burping. Trouble swallowing occurs in roughly one-third of GERD patients and is related to an experience that food is stuck, particularly in the area behind the breastbone.

Other symptoms of GERD consist of those associated to the respiratory system: chronic cough and asthma/wheezing arise from the goal of stomach contents into the bronchi and lungs. About half of patients with asthma caused by GERD do not experience heartburn. Hoarseness, typically experienced by GERD patients in the morning, results from inflammation of the singing cords by refluxed stomach contents. Laryngitis and dental erosions can likewise be symptoms of GERD if the stomach contents go all the way up into the throat the back of the mouth.

What to Do If You Have Frequent Heartburn

If you experience more-than-occasional heartburn or indigestion, it is important that you seek attention from a health care professional as quickly as possible. These may be symptoms of a major medical condition like a heart attack, ulcer, or gallbladder disease. In addition, the symptoms may signify damage to the esophagus which can lead to scarring and narrowing of the esophagus or to abnormal cell development, increasing the risk of cancer.

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