Heartburn is the symptom of acid reflux and GERD; however, not everyone with acid reflux has heartburn and not everyone with heartburn has acid reflux. The symptom of heartburn can also be caused by other unusual things such as intestinal motility problems. Cardiac problems can also mimic heartburn and you should not confuse the two. Unexplained chest pain should be evaluated by an exercise stress test or EKG prior to an evaluation for gastrointestinal problems. 

Quick Facts


  • Burning feeling in the chest, just behind the breastbone, that occurs after eating and lasts a few minutes to several hours
  • Chest pain, especially after bending over, lying down or eating
  • Burning in the throat -- or hot, sour, acidic or salty-tasting fluid at the back of the throat
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Feeling of food "sticking" in the middle of the chest or throat
  • Heartburn may cause chronic cough, sore throat, or chronic hoarseness

Common Causes:

  • Foods and beverages which may trigger your symptoms, including:
    • Alcohol
    • Caffeine
    • Carbonated beverages
    • Chocolate
    • Citrus fruits and juices
    • Tomatoes and tomato products
    • Spicy or fatty foods
    • Full-fat dairy products
    • Peppermint, Spearmint
  • Obesity
  • Cigarettes
  • Medications


  • Medical history review and review of symptoms
  • Physical examination
  • Upper endoscopy, or EGD
  • Barium swallow
  • Continuous esophageal pH monitoring
  • Esophageal manometry
  • Stool occult blood test

Common Treatments:

  • Avoid foods and beverages that may trigger your symptoms
  • Avoid bending over or exercising just after eating
  • Avoid garments or belts that fit tightly around your waist
  • Do not lie down with a full stomach
  • Do not smoke
  • Eat smaller meals
  • Lose weight if you are overweight
  • Reduce stress

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