Is that burning sensation you’re feeling in your chest acid reflux or heartburn–or could it even be GERD? Although the terms may seem to be used interchangeably, there are several differences between the three, as well as the treatment options for each. With so many over-the-counter medications available at your local pharmacy, it may be difficult to tell which to use to treat your post-meal pain. Here’s what you need to know about these three distinct issues and treatments.
Acid reflux is the condition in which acid and food from your stomach make their way into the esophagus, which is the tube connecting your stomach to your throat. Usually, stomach acid and food travel in the same direction, which is down. However, when you have acid reflux, that acid reverses direction and travels upward. At times, you can even taste some sourness and the food you just ate in the back of your mouth.
The burning sensation in the middle of your chest, in reality, has absolutely nothing to do with your heart. The issue is with your esophagus. The common misconception is that the sensation is a direct result of stomach acid, but according to a 2016 JAMA paper, acid reflux stimulates the esophagus to produce cytokines. These are cell-signaling molecules that are essentially an immune response and stimulate the cells to target sites of inflammation, infection, and trauma. Therefore, heartburn can be a symptom of acid reflux, although some people do not feel pain in their chest at all. And it is also possible to feel heartburn without acid reflux.