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Heartburn vs. Indigestion vs. Acid Reflux: What Are The Differences?

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Differences – Most people interchange the three common gastrointestinal (GI) issues of heartburn, acid reflux, and indigestion. While they often manifest similar symptoms, medical practitioners consider each one a different GI condition. But when you experience one of the three, it can be challenging to decipher which one you have.

Differences
Woman Suffering From Acid Reflux Or Heartburn-Isolated On White Background

Each condition has a different treatment. So, you need to know and understand what’s bothering you before you take a specific medication to relieve it. Here’s a brief yet detailed guide to help you distinguish one from the other:

Indigestion

You could have indigestion if you’re experiencing discomfort and pain in your belly before or after eating. This GI issue goes by many names, like a stomach ache, belly ache, or an upset stomach. But it’s medically known as dyspepsia, which often occurs when you eat too fast or chew with your mouth open. These actions make you swallow more air while eating, making you feel bloated and belching more often.

Food that’s high in fat content is also a reason for indigestion. If your body doesn’t respond well to fatty food, your stomach will react badly. In addition, stress and smoking are usual culprits. So, you might need to find ways to avoid these to prevent getting stomach aches if you have them frequently.

Indigestion is relatively easy to treat. You’ll often only need to take the best antacid you can buy over the counter. Afterward, you may have to reduce your caffeine, fatty food, and carbonated and alcoholic drink intake since these could also cause an upset stomach.

The pain from indigestion could travel to your upper abdomen, which is why many people think they have heartburn. But indigestion has symptoms that heartburn doesn’t have, which include the following:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Bloating
  • Excessive belching and gas
  • Feeling full during meals

However, heartburn and indigestion share a common symptom: feeling your existing symptoms worsen when you lie down. If this happens to you and you’re unsure of what’s afflicting you, an over-the-counter (OTC) antacid that alleviates indigestion and heartburn should help. Otherwise, you may need to visit your doctor to confirm.

Acid Reflux

The human digestive system naturally has acids that help break down food for easier digestion. But when these liquids find a way up the esophagus, this is called acid reflux. Medical practitioners also know this as gastroesophageal reflux (GER) and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) if the patient is experiencing more persistent pain and discomfort.

You’ll know if you have acid reflux if your chest feels hot and uncomfortable. Sometimes, you can feel the burning sensation behind your breastbone area. On other instances, the acid could flow to your throat, making you taste something sour and bitter even if you’re not eating anything.

Acid reflux can affect anyone, including very young children. Therefore, it is not a digestive illness that comes with advancing years. It’s possible that it could occur for no apparent reason. Causes of acid reflux, which can also manifest as indigestion, include:

  • Alcohol
  • Spicy or fatty food
  • Caffeine

But it has other causes, such as food and lifestyle choices including:

  • Meals with tomatoes, tomato sauces, onions, and garlic
  • Eating large meals
  • Carbonated or acidic drinks and chocolates
  • Lying down immediately after eating
  • Antihistamines, asthma medication, painkillers, or antidepressants
  • Active or passive smoking
  • Obesity
  • Pregnancy

Acid reflux can last for several hours and worsen if you lie down or continue eating while you have it. Sometimes, it can result in insomnia since it’s difficult to sleep through it. In this scenario, it would be best to avoid eating for at least four hours before sleeping.

Luckily, over-the-counter (OTC) antacids can treat mild acid refluxes. If you suffer from GERD, you may need to get prescriptions for PPIs and H2 blockers to decrease acid production. Your doctor must prescribe these medications since they aren’t ideal for anyone with acid reflux despite being generally safe.

Frequently experiencing GER is not normal. So, you must have your condition checked immediately, especially if the symptoms prevent you from living a normal life. Remember that GERD could lead to more severe issues like Barrett’s esophagus or esophageal cancer when left untreated.

Heartburn

The most common sign of GERD or acid reflux is heartburn. The sensation is similar to having your chest on fire, hence the name. However, your heart isn’t affected in any way when this happens. So, a heart attack isn’t always the reason for chest pain. Heart attacks can manifest through discomfort in your neck, shoulders, and arms and shortness of breath, which don’t happen when you have heartburn.

The pain from heartburn is often located in your sternum or throat. You may also feel a nagging sensation that makes you want to throw up what you’ve eaten. Other times, you could have difficulty swallowing food. If you’re pregnant, obese, or exposed to cigarette smoke, you’re more at risk of having heartburn. People who regularly consume alcoholic drinks, fried or fatty food, spices, and acidic food and beverages could trigger heartburn.

You can alleviate heartburn by taking an antacid or prescription PPIs and H2 blockers for indigestion and acid reflux. Avoiding certain foods and drinks can also prevent regular occurrences of GER or heartburn. But if you’re genetically prone to having heart attacks and frequently experience heartburn, it’s best to visit your healthcare provider for effective treatment options.

Conclusion

When you feel pain in your chest or abdomen, you may immediately conclude that you have indigestion, acid reflux, or heartburn. They sometimes feel the same way, which explains why people often interchange them. But they’re three different conditions.

Indigestion is a pain in your stomach or upper abdomen. Acid reflux is when your stomach’s digestive juices flow to your esophagus. And finally, heartburn is a symptom of acid reflux which manifests as nausea or discomfort in your throat. By knowing their differences, you’ll easily distinguish what you have and treat it accordingly.

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