North Richland Hills, TX

North Richland Hills and Grand Prairie, TX

North Richland Hills and Grand Prairie, TX

When Heartburn is Really a Sign of Something Else


Heartburn is extremely common. One study indicates that 60 million Americans experience heartburn every month. Most people, as a result, think that they’re suffering from a relatively commonplace condition. And it’s not that big of a problem, when you eat some really spicy food, a bit of heartburn is fairly normal.

But you may want to pay attention when you experience heartburn again and again. If this is happening, it might not be heartburn, it might be acid reflux.

What is acid reflux?

When a certain muscle weakens, a condition known as “GERD” or gastroesophageal reflux (acid reflux) occurs. This muscle, called the lower esophageal sphincter, is responsible for opening up when food is moving down the esophagus, and for staying closed any other time (so food doesn’t come back up). It’s like your esophagus has a handy open – close valve.

As the muscle begins to fail, food, stomach acid, and other material can make their way up the esophagus (which is not its optimal direction). And this will cause heartburn and other symptoms.

Acid reflux and heartburn – What’s the difference?

Generally, it’s good that your stomach is so acidic. Your stomach acid helps break food down and aids in the digestive process. Occasionally, the food you eat can throw off the acid balance in your stomach, leading to the symptoms of heartburn (this is the type of thing you can solve by taking a couple of antacids).

GERD, on the contrary, is a substantially more systemic problem. Your stomach acids might be well balanced and functioning normally, but because that esophageal sphincter isn’t doing its job, those acids are making their way up your esophagus.

How to Manage Acid Reflux

The treatments for GERD or Acid Reflux typically depend on how severe the symptoms are. A few lifestyle changes will be enough for the majority of people who have GERD. We may advise you to:

  • When you sleep at night, raise your head.
  • Foods that irritate your GERD or cause heartburn should be avoided.
  • Use over-the-counter medications to help control symptoms.

If these treatments don’t help relieve your symptoms, we might recommend a prescription-strength medication to help you. We will work with you to choose the right prescription medication for you.

If prescription medication doesn’t help you manage your GERD symptoms, we might refer you for surgery. There are presently minimally invasive methods and devices available that have been shown to help patients manage symptoms and cut down on GERD episodes.

Is it Acid Reflux or Just Heartburn?

So the real question is: how can you tell when your heartburn is a symptom of something else? That is, how can you tell when it’s acid reflux you’re dealing with and not simple heartburn?

Heartburn is actually one symptom of GERD so it can be relatively difficult to tell. Here are some things to watch for:

  • You regurgitate stomach acid or even small amounts of food. This symptom very likely points to acid reflux.
  • You experience difficulty swallowing. This is probably because of a malfunction with your esophageal sphincter.
  • Your heartburn isn’t isolated: You may be dealing with reflux if your heartburn keeps returning again and again.
  • you’re having chest pains (acid reflux can often cause chest pains, but it’s important to point out that if you’re having chest pains, you should seek medical attention immediately).
  • You have trouble sleeping at night due to these symptoms.
  • You have a lump in your throat. This lump is usually undigested food.

It’s very likely that you’re dealing with acid reflux if these symptoms appear. When you start to experience one or more of these symptoms, you should talk to us about diagnosing your condition.

The site information is for educational and informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. To receive personalized advice or treatment, schedule an appointment.

Questions? Talk To Us.