More than 60 million Americans suffer from heartburn at least once a month. Discomfort caused by heartburn can severely limit daily activities and productivity. To learn more about heartburn, let's first get a basic understanding of the terms "acid reflux" and "heartburn". Although the two medical terms are related, they each describe a different digestive effect. Mainly, acid reflux causes heartburn.
Acid reflux --> heartburn
When you eat, food passes from your mouth down a tube called the esophagus. Before food enters the stomach, the food must pass through an opening between the esophagus and stomach, which closes as soon as food passes through. If the opening doesn't close all the way, acid from your stomach can get return into your esophagus. This is called reflux.
What is acid reflux/heartburn?
Heartburn is a painful burning feeling in your chest or throat that radiates toward the neck or back. Heartburn occurs when stomach acid rises into the esophagus (acid reflux). When acid reflux occurs, food or fluid can be tasted in the back of the mouth. Refluxed stomach acid in the esophagus can also cause a bitter taste in the throat or mouth.
What causes acid reflux/heartburn?
Pregnancy, certain foods, alcohol and some medications can bring on heartburn. Treating heartburn is important because over time reflux can damage the esophagus and cause a more serious condition called gastroesophageal reflux disease.
If the heartburn continues, you may need prescription medicines or surgery, but when do you know to look for help? Read the next section on acid reflux, GERD and symptoms of heartburn to learn the difference between benign and more serious signs of gastro-intestinal problems.