What’s the Difference Between Heartburn, Acid Reflux, and GERD?

What’s the Difference Between Heartburn, Acid Reflux, and GERD?

It’s hard to ignore heartburn, which can affect anyone of any age and has nothing to do with your heart. Instead, it’s a symptom of a sometimes temporary, sometimes long-term (chronic) problem in your digestive system that may require attention from a specialist.

Prem Chattoo, MD, is a board-certified gastroenterologist at Hudson River Gastroenterology serving Lower Manhattan and the Financial District of New York City. He provides advanced diagnostic tests and treatments for gastrointestinal issues, such as irritable bowel syndrome, Crohn’s disease, and acid reflux. Dr. Chattoo is also committed to providing education that helps his patients make informed decisions about their health. 

Here, you can learn more from Dr. Chattoo about the difference between heartburn, acid reflux, and GERD. You can also find out when you should consider scheduling an appointment for your symptoms.

Understanding the difference between heartburn and acid reflux

Occasional heartburn is a common issue that frequently occurs after eating a large, spicy, fatty, or sugary meal. Increased abdominal pressure during pregnancy can also trigger that achy burning discomfort in your chest. Heartburn may worsen with bending over or lying down and frequently responds quickly to over-the-counter antacids.

However, heartburn is not a disease. Instead, it’s one of the symptoms you may experience when stomach acids wash back into the hollow muscular tube (esophagus) that carries food and liquids from your mouth to the stomach.

Usually, a band of muscle called the lower esophageal sphincter (LES) closes tightly after you swallow, preventing stomach contents from moving back into your esophagus. However, if the LES doesn’t close tightly enough, digestive acids from the stomach can flow back into the esophagus. This is known as acid reflux.

Symptoms of acid reflux may include:

Intermittent acid reflux is often related to certain foods or habits, such as lying down after consuming a large meal. However, frequent reflux may indicate a more serious disorder called GERD.

GERD explained

GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease) is a chronic (long-term) condition that occurs when you have frequent bouts of acid reflux.

Your symptoms may include the following:

The corrosive effects of frequent acid reflux can cause significant damage to the esophagus over time, including ulcers, bleeding, and scarring. GERD also increases your risk of developing Barrett’s esophagus, which may, in turn, increase your risk of esophageal cancer.

Treating GERD

Dr. Chattoo starts with an evaluation and diagnostic studies, such as upper endoscopy, to confirm the diagnosis of GERD.

He then develops an individualized treatment strategy that may include medications to decrease or block stomach acid production. He also discusses lifestyle changes to reduce the frequency of acid reflux, such as improving your diet, losing weight to relieve pressure on your abdomen, or elevating the head of your bed when sleeping.

If you have severe symptoms that don’t respond to medication, Dr. Chattoo may recommend minimally invasive surgery to repair or reinforce the lower esophageal sphincter. You may also require additional treatment and ongoing surveillance if GERD has caused significant damage to your esophagus.


Don’t ignore frequent heartburn. Instead, schedule a visit with Dr. Chattoo at Hudson River Gastroenterology today by calling the office or booking an appointment online.

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