Heartburn & GERD: What’s the Difference?

You probably hear the term “heartburn” all the time. On television commercials, the radio, in magazine ads and on billboards. Chances are you have also heard a mention or two about GERD or GastroEsophageal Reflux Disease. The two can become confusing, because they are often depicted very similarly. And in fact, they are very similar. GERD is simply a more serious or severe form of acid reflux that can lead to complications down the road, such as esophagitis, narrowing of the esophagus or Barrett’s esophagus.@Glowimages 50819.

Regional Medical Center’s Dr. Dilip Ghanekar explains the differences below:

It may be better to first talk about the underlying cause, namely acid reflux. Acid reflux is when acid, which is normally present in the stomach, backs up into the esophagus. The esophagus is the muscular tube that takes food from the mouth to the stomach.

Heartburn is a burning sensation in the chest behind the breast bone. It is caused by acid reflux. It can be accompanied by burning in the throat or sour fluid in the throat. This can cause coughing or a raspy voice. Acid reflux can also cause stomach or chest pain.

Patients are felt to have GERD or GastroEsophageal Reflux Disease when they have symptoms or complications of acid reflux. To a certain extent, the two terms are interchangeable.

The biggest cause for acid reflux is felt to be obesity or being overweight. The reasons may be due to increased pressure on the stomach from the excess fatty tissue in the abdomen. It is also possible that people who are obese are more likely to have lifestyles that increase the chance of getting acid reflux (eating too fast, eating large meals, and eating high-calorie foods). Heartburn is felt by many people in the United States. Twenty-five percent of Americans have heartburn or regurgitation at least once a month.

Possible Complications of GERD
Chronic GERD that is untreated can lead to serious complications in some people. Acid reflux can damage the lining of the esophagus over time, which may cause ulcers and bleeding and is referred to as esophagitis. Damage from continuous acid reflux can create scars that over time lead to a narrowing of the esophagus, which makes swallowing more difficult. And in rare cares an individual may develop Barrett’s esophagus, a complication in which cells of the esophageal lining change in shape and color — these cells can then lead to esophageal cancer.

Because of the complications that GERD can lead to, it is important to speak to your doctor if you feel you are experiencing chronic acid reflux. If GERD is diagnosed early on, it can be properly treated and monitored by a physician before further complications arise. To learn more about heartburn and GERD, visit us online at Regional Medical Center Bayonet Point or call our Consult-A-Nurse® service at 1-888-741-5119 for health information and physician referrals.

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