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Heartburn vs Acid Reflux vs GERD - What is the difference?

Medically reviewed by C. Fookes, BPharm Last updated on Aug 29, 2019.

Official Answer


The terms heartburn, acid reflux, and GERD each have a slightly different meaning.

  • Heartburn describes the feeling that acid makes when it rises up your esophagus (the tube that connects your throat to your stomach). People say it feels like your heart is burning…hence the term heartburn. The esophagus lies directly behind the heart, so the burning sensation that acid makes when it touches the tissues lining your esophagus is why it feels like it is coming from your heart.
  • Acid reflux is what causes heartburn. Stomach acid is escaping out of your stomach and up your esophagus. This is normally due to a weak lower esophageal sphincter (the circular band of muscle that stops the contents of your stomach from regurgitating upwards).
  • GERD stands for gastroesophageal reflux disease and it is a medical condition. GERD results from a weak lower esophageal sphincter which causes reflux which may lead to symptoms such as heartburn. Reflux from GERD refers to the backflow of stomach contents into the esophagus which may be either acidic or non-acidic. Nonacid reflux may not cause any symptoms.
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