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Have you been experiencing a sore throat for a while now? While in some cases, it could mean that you may be on the brink of catching a cold but it could also be a sign of a problem in your lower oesophagal sphincter. It is the muscle that regulates the opening between the oesophagus and the stomach, and if it doesn’t shut all the way, food, and stomach acid can flow back into the oesophagus. This is medically known as acid reflux. But this term is often confused with heartburn. However, heartburn and acidity are different.
HealthShots reached out to Dr Naresh Agarwal (MD, DM), Associate Director, Gastroenterology and Endoscopy at Max Superseniority Hospital, Patparganj, Delhi, to know the difference between heartburn and acidity.
What is heartburn?
The term ‘heartburn’ does not actually refer to pain in your heart. In fact, it has nothing to do with your heart. It occurs in your digestive system and involves slight to severe chest pain, which is confused with a heart attack but it’s not.
Also Read: Is it a heart attack or heartburn? Here’s how to differentiate
Dr Agarwal explains it as a physical symptom that patients feel in form of burning, discomfort, heaviness, or uneasiness in the area behind the mid-chest or upper part of the abdomen. It may or may not affect you after having food. There are several reasons why it happens and acid reflux is one of the many causes that lead to heartburn. Apart from this, it could also occur due to cardiac problems, infections, and liver and gallbladder problems.
Even emotional problems and depression can contribute to heartburn. Diagnosis of heartburn is made by history and detailed examination of the patient. The treatment of heartburn depends on the cause of the problem.
What is acid reflux?
“Acid reflux or gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is a structural problem in which acid forms in the food pipe or oesophagus from the stomach,” explains Dr Agarwal. Sometimes, there is prolapse of the stomach into the food pipe known as hiatus hernia which is associated with reflux. Refluxed acid can lead to heartburn. Surprisingly many patients with reflux may not have heartburn and this problem may get overlooked.
Also Read: Beware! These everyday things can trigger acid reflux
Acid reflux may cause heartburn and heartburn may be present at the time without reflux. Dr Agarwal says almost 50 percent of cases of heartburn and acid reflux co-exist. Treatment is aimed at reducing acid or restoring the weakness of the lower food pipe whether it is an anatomical or functional problem. Medical treatment is the primary treatment and we have medicines known as proton pump inhibitors (PPI) to deal with acid reflux, adds the expert. Other than medicines, endoscopic treatments like ARMA (ant reflux mucosal ablation) and fundoplication are used to treat difficult cases. Only rarely surgery is required.
Acid reflux vs heartburn
Think of these two problems as branches of one tree, but they definitely cannot be used interchangeably. Heartburn is a symptom that a patient feels and it can or cannot be because of free flux. Acid reflux may or may not cause heartburn, so sometimes they are related and sometimes they are not related.
It is best to ask your doctor if it’s heartburn or acid reflux that you are suffering from. And your healthcare provider will also guide you through the right treatment.