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Symptoms of Heartburn

What heartburn feels like

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Updated June 02, 2014

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

Businesswoman sitting in front of a computer with her hand on her chest
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If you know the symptoms of heartburn, if you know what heartburn feels like, it can lead to earlier treatment.

Heartburn (reflux) is a symptom of another digestive disorder, and not a disorder by itself. For example, heartburn is the most common symptom of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). Acid reflux is a medical condition, with heartburn as a possible symptom of that condition.

Many people have different heartburn triggers, but most people have similar heartburn symptoms.

A burning sensation in the chest
This burning sensation usually starts behind the breastbone (the sternum), and may travel up to the throat. It usually occurs shortly after eating, and can last from a few minutes to several hours.

A burning feeling in the throat
This is a sensation of burning, usually high up in the neck though it can occur lower. The pain may worsen with swallowing. This burning sensation can result from irritation when stomach contents reflux up into the throat.

Sour or bitter taste in the mouth
This sour or bitter taste can occur when stomach contents reflux up into the esophagus and may reach the back of the throat. When the contents enter the back of the throat, a person will often have a sour or bitter taste in their mouth.

Difficulty swallowing
Trouble with swallowing (dysphagia) occurs when food does not pass normally from the mouth through the esophagus to the stomach. There may be a sensation of food sticking in the throat, chest pressure or "burning" after eating, or a feeling of choking. Difficulty swallowing could be a sign of various conditions, including erosive esophagitis and esophageal cancer, and should always be evaluated by a physician.

Chronic coughing
In some studies, GERD accounted for about 41% of cases of chronic cough in nonsmoking patients. If stomach acid reflux (back up) into the esophagus and is aspirated, it can cause coughing.

Wheezing or other asthma-like symptoms
Several studies suggest a significant link between GERD and asthma. The results of these studies show that up to 60% of people with asthma also have gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), compared with 10% of the general population. GERD can affect asthma when stomach acid reflux into the esophagus and is aspirated into the airways and lungs, and can make breathing difficult and cause the patient to wheeze and cough.

Source:

"Heartburn, Gastroesophageal Reflux (GER), and Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD)." NIH Publication No. 07–0882 May 2007. National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse (NDDIC). 7 Jan 2008.

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