Don’t Confuse Acid Reflux with Heartburn


You might think you’re experiencing heartburn after devouring that plate of nachos. But the discomfort in your gut and throat may actually be acid reflux.

Sure, it’s called heartburn, but that feeling deep in your torso that happens after too many munchies doesn’t start with your heart. It may be acid reflux.

Is It Heartburn or Acid Reflux?

We spoke with John Watson, MD, Renown Medical Group, about acid reflux and heartburn. Dr. Watson says that “you can’t have true heartburn without acid reflux, although you can have acid reflux and not experience the classic symptoms.” Those symptoms include a burning sensation between the top of the stomach to the throat, as well as an acidic taste in the throat.

You may want to skip out on the nachos for Super Bowl Sunday if you suffer from acid reflux symptoms. Spicy foods and tomato-based salsa may be some of the culprits.
You may want to skip out on those nachos if you suffer from acid reflux symptoms. Spicy foods and tomato-based salsa may be some of the culprits.

How common is acid reflux?
Very. “Everyone will experience it at one time or another,” Dr. Watson says.

What happens during acid reflux?
Acid that is produced in the stomach leaks back into your esophagus. Dr. Watson says that’s what causes the physical sensation of heartburn. It’s also known as GERD, or gastro esophageal reflux disease.

What causes acid reflux?
Dr. Watson explains that larger meals or certain types of food are associated with acid reflux. “There are foods that cause the relaxation of the valve between the esophagus and stomach. Some of the more common ones are spicy foods, caffeine products including coffee, alcohol, chocolate and tomato-based sauces.” Other causes could include eating a meal before lying down, overeating, obesity and a hiatal hernia, in which part of the stomach sticks upward into the chest.

What should I do if I have the symptoms?
The acid reflux symptoms could point to something else, so it’s always a good idea to see your doctor. “Similar symptoms present themselves with heart attacks, so these shouldn’t just be written off as heartburn,” Dr. Watson says.  Plus, frequent exposure of acid in the esophagus could lead to changes in the organ, including cancer.

“If you have difficulty swallowing or food feels like it is sticking when it goes down, that can indicate a more serious problem,” Dr. Watson says. “My best advice would be to not wait and get frequent heartburn treated as soon as you can.”

How do you treat acid reflux? 
It varies based on severity and frequency of symptoms. If it’s mild, avoid problematic foods, eat smaller meals, avoid food before bedtime and lose some weight if you are carrying extra pounds. If that burning sensation seems to flare up at night, Dr. Watson recommends elevating the head of your bed with blocks.