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Heartburn Symptoms – How to Know if I Have Heartburn or Indigestion?

Man suffering from heartburn symptoms.

Not everyone experiences heartburn in the same way. There are many heartburn symptoms that range from mild to severe and the way you experience these unpleasant sensations can differ from person to person.

What is Heartburn

Heartburn occurs when stomach acid backs up into your esophagus.1 While your stomach can safely contain this acidic mixture that helps to break down foods, your esophagus, which connects your mouth to your stomach, cannot.2 When the valve that separates your stomach and esophagus doesn’t close properly, stomach acid can flow into the esophagus. This is called reflux and causes you to feel heartburn via a number of different symptoms.

Heartburn Symptoms

If you are suffering from heartburn, you may feel any of the following symptoms, either by themselves or in combination: 2

  • A burning feeling in the center of your chest that typically appears after eating or at night1
  • A burning sensation in your throat
  • Pain in your chest when you lay down or bend over
  • An unpleasant taste in the back of your throat that may be salty, sour, acidic, or hot

Heartburn symptoms can generally be managed at home with lifestyle changes or an over-the-counter medication, but occasionally symptoms may be severe enough to necessitate medical attention. Severe heartburn symptoms that may require a visit to a medical professional include:3

  • Symptoms persist even though you are treating them with over-the-counter medications
  • Vomiting
  • Weight loss due to difficulty eating
  • Heartburn so severe it interferes with your daily life

Heartburn or Indigestion

You may find yourself wondering if you have heartburn or indigestion. As the symptoms are slightly similar, and tend to occur after eating, they may be difficult to distinguish. Generally, the following symptoms may be attributed to indigestion, rather than heartburn caused by reflux:

  • Feeling full early on in a meal or feeling uncomfortably full after a meal
  • Discomfort or burning in the upper abdomen between your sternum and navel
  • A bloating sensation in your abdomen
  • Nausea

While people who suffer from indigestion may also experience heartburn, they are two distinct, separate conditions. Heartburn is generally associated with a specific location behind the sternum (see photo above), due to the position of the valve between the stomach and esophagus. If there is recurring pain in your chest and you cannot identify the cause or find relief, you should contact your doctor. Because chest pain can be attributed to a number of serious causes any sort of prolonged pain should be met with medical attention.

  1. Heartburn. Mayo Clinic. Accessed on 3/3/2021.
  2. Heartburn overview. Cleveland Clinic. Accessed on 3/3/2021.
  3. Indigestion. Mayo Clinic. Accessed on 3/3/2021.