Heartburn: Causes, symptoms, and treatments

Heartburn is a common problem created by acid reflux, a condition where some of the stomach contents are forced back up into the esophagus. It creates a burning pain in the lower chest.

Persistent acid reflux that happens more than twice a week is called gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). Heartburn is felt when stomach acid flows back up into the esophagus, the pipe that carries food from the mouth to the stomach. Heartburn is a symptom of GERD.

According to estimates from the American College of Gastroenterology, at least 15 million Americans experience heartburn every day. Learn more about stomach fluid, the sphincter between the esophagus and stomach, and how reflux can be harmful.

Fast facts on heartburn:

Causes include diet, obesity, and lack of exercise.

The primary symptom is a burning sensation in the throat or chest from stomach acid.

In many cases, heartburn has little bearing on overall health.

There are many treatments, including PPI medications (proton-pump inhibitors).


Woman with fire coming out of her mouth
There are many causes of heartburn, including obesity and smoking.

Occasional heartburn is normal and is rarely a significant cause for concern.

Recurrent acid reflux results in the diagnosis of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD or GORD) and can have serious consequences for health and indicate other underlying health issues.

Gastroesophageal reflux disease is seen in people of all ages, and the cause is often attributable to a lifestyle factors, such as obesity, smoking, and low levels of exercise.

See here for more detail about the causes of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).

woman experiencing burning in the middle of the chest
Symptoms include a burning sensation in the middle of the chest.

The symptoms of heartburn are fairly obvious to most sufferers. The most common is a feeling of warmth or heat, sometimes burning, in the chest and throat, caused by the stomach acid.

Other symptoms include:

burning sensation in the middle of the chest.

rising pain, possibly reaching the jaw.

burning and indigestion-like pain.

foul, acrid taste in the mouth.

What is acid reflux?What is acid reflux?
Sometimes heartburn is a symptom of GERD, learn more about the causes and symptoms of this associated condition
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If a person experiences symptoms of acid reflux frequently, they should consult their doctor, who may refer them to a gastroenterologist – a specialist in gut medicine – for further investigation. Learn more about GERD.

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