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Other names: Acid indigestion, pyrosis,[1][2] cardialgia, acid regurgitation
SymptomsBurning in the chest[3]
Risk factorsOverweight, pregnancy, certain foods, certain medications, exposure to cigarette smoke[3][4]
Differential diagnosisAngina[5]
MedicationAntacids, proton pump inhibitor[4]

Heartburn, also known as acid indigestion, is a burning sensation in the central chest or upper central abdomen.[3] The discomfort may feel like it rises from the upper central abdomen to the throat.[3] There may also be a sour taste in your throat.[4] It is a primary symptom of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).[3]

Heartburn is due to stomach acid entering the esophagus.[3] Risk factors include being overweight, pregnancy, certain foods, certain medications, hiatus hernia, and exposure to cigarette smoke.[3][4] Foods that are implicated include coffee, tomatoes, alcohol, and chocolate.[4] Commonly involve medications include NSAIDs.[4] Other conditions that may appear similar include angina.[5]

Useful lifestyle changes include eating smaller meals, not eating before bedtime, losing weight if overweight, and raising the head of the bed.[4] Medications that may help include an antacids or proton pump inhibitor.[4] If these measures are not effective or other concerning symptoms are present a gastroscopy may be useful to rule out other causes.[4] Heartburn affects more than 20% of the population in the US.[3]


The terms indigestion includes heartburn along with a number of other symptoms.[6] Indigestion is sometimes defined as a combination of epigastric pain and heartburn.[7] Heartburn is commonly used interchangeably with gastroesophageal reflux disease rather than just to describe a symptom of burning in one's chest.[8]

Differential diagnosis

Heart attack symptoms and esophageal symptoms can be very similar, as the heart and esophagus use the same nerve supply.[9]

Because of the dangers inherent in an overlooked diagnosis of heart attack, cardiac disease should be considered first in people with unexplained chest pain. Further medical investigation, such as imaging, is often necessary.[citation needed]


Gastroesophageal reflux disease is the most common cause of heartburn. In this condition acid reflux has led to inflammation of the esophagus.[10]


Symptoms of heartburn can be confused with the pain that is a symptom of an acute myocardial infarction (heart attack) or angina.[11] A description of burning or indigestion-like pain increases the risk of acute coronary syndrome, but not to a statistically significant level.[12] In a group of people presenting to a hospital with GERD symptoms, 0.6% may be due to ischemic heart disease.[9]

As many as 30% of chest pain patients undergoing cardiac catheterization have findings which do not account for their chest discomfort, and are often defined as having "atypical chest pain" or chest pain of undetermined origin.[13] According to data recorded in several studies based on ambulatory pH and pressure monitoring, it is estimated that 25% to 50% of these patients have evidence of abnormal GERD.[citation needed]

Functional heartburn

Functional heartburn is heartburn of unknown cause.[14] It is associated with other functional gastrointestinal disorders like irritable bowel syndrome and is the primary cause of lack of improvement post treatment with proton pump inhibitors (PPIs).[14] PPIs are however still the primary treatment with response rates in about 50% of people.[14] The diagnosis is one of elimination, based upon the Rome III criteria: 1) burning retrosternal discomfort; 2) elimination of heart attack and GERD as the cause; and 3) no esophageal motility disorders.[14] It was found to be present in 22.3% of Canadians in one survey.[14]

Diagnostic approach

Heartburn can be caused by several conditions and a preliminary diagnosis of GERD is based on additional signs and symptoms. The chest pain caused by GERD has a distinct 'burning' sensation, occurs after eating or at night, and worsens when a person lies down or bends over.[15] It also is common in pregnant women, and may be triggered by consuming food in large quantities, or specific foods containing certain spices, high fat content, or high acid content.[15][16] If the chest pain is suspected to be heartburn, patients may undergo an upper GI series to confirm the presence of acid reflux.[16][17] Heartburn or chest pain after eating or drinking and combined with difficulty swallowing may indicate esophageal spasms.[18]

GI cocktail

Relief of symptoms 5 to 10 minutes after the administration of viscous lidocaine and an antacid increases the suspicion that the pain is esophageal in origin.[19] This however does not rule out a potential cardiac cause[20] as 10% of cases of discomfort due to cardiac causes are improved with antacids.[21]


Esophageal pH monitoring: a probe can be placed via the nose into the esophagus to record the level of acidity in the lower esophagus. Because some degree of variation in acidity is normal, and small reflux events are relatively common, esophageal pH monitoring can be used to document reflux in real-time.[citation needed]


Manometry: in this test, a pressure sensor (manometer) is passed via the mouth into the esophagus and measures the pressure of the lower oesophageal sphincter directly.[citation needed]

Endoscopy: the oesophageal mucosa can be visualized directly by passing a thin, lighted tube with a tiny camera known as an endoscope attached through the mouth to examine the oesophagus and stomach. In this way, evidence of esophageal inflammation can be detected, and biopsies taken if necessary. Since an endoscopy allows a doctor to visually inspect the upper digestive tract the procedure may help identify any additional damage to the tract that may not have been detected otherwise.[citation needed]

Biopsy: a small sample of tissue from the oesophagus is removed. It is then studied to check for inflammation, cancer, or other problems.[citation needed]


Antacids such as calcium carbonate are often taken to treat the immediate problem,[22] with further treatments depending on the underlying cause. Medicines such as H2 receptor antagonists or proton pump inhibitors are effective for gastritis and GERD, the two most common causes of heartburn. Antibiotics are used if H. pylori is present.[citation needed]


About 42% of the United States population has had heartburn at some point.[23]


  1. "Pyrosis definition - MedicineNet - Health and Medical Information Produced by Doctors". MedicineNet. Archived from the original on 23 January 2014. Retrieved 19 November 2015.
  2. "Pyrosis Medical Definition - Merriam-Webster Medical Dictionary". merriam-webster.com. Archived from the original on 25 July 2015. Retrieved 24 July 2015.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 3.5 3.6 3.7 3.8 "Definition & Facts for GER & GERD | NIDDK". National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Archived from the original on 17 October 2020. Retrieved 18 October 2020.
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 4.4 4.5 4.6 4.7 4.8 "Heartburn and acid reflux". nhs.uk. 23 October 2017. Archived from the original on 17 October 2020. Retrieved 18 October 2020.
  5. 5.0 5.1 Auerbach, Paul S. (2015). Medicine for the Outdoors E-Book: The Essential Guide to First Aid and Medical Emergencies. Elsevier Health Sciences. p. 208. ISBN 978-0-323-34097-7. Archived from the original on 2021-08-28. Retrieved 2020-10-19.
  6. Duvnjak, edited by Marko (2011). Dyspepsia in clinical practice (1. Aufl. ed.). New York: Springer. p. 2. ISBN 9781441917300. Archived from the original on 2015-06-21.
  7. Delaney B, Ford AC, Forman D, Moayyedi P, Qume M (2005). Delaney B (ed.). "Initial management strategies for dyspepsia". Cochrane Database Syst Rev (4): CD001961. doi:10.1002/14651858.CD001961.pub2. PMID 16235292.
  8. Sajatovic, Martha; Loue, Sana; Koroukian, Siran M. (2008). Encyclopedia of aging and public health. Berlin: Springer. p. 419. ISBN 978-0-387-33753-1.
  9. 9.0 9.1 Kato H, Ishii T, Akimoto T, Urita Y, Sugimoto M (April 2009). "Prevalence of linked angina and gastroesophageal reflux disease in general practice". World J. Gastroenterol. 15 (14): 1764–8. doi:10.3748/wjg.15.1764. PMC 2668783. PMID 19360921.
  10. Differential diagnosis in primary care. Philadelphia: Wolters Kluwer Health/Lippincott Williams & Wilkins. 2008. p. 211. ISBN 978-0-7817-6812-2.
  11. Waller CG (December 2006). "Understanding prehospital delay behavior in acute myocardial infarction in women". Crit Pathw Cardiol. 5 (4): 228–34. doi:10.1097/01.hpc.0000249621.40659.cf. PMID 18340239.
  12. Woo KM, Schneider JI (November 2009). "High-risk chief complaints I: chest pain--the big three". Emerg. Med. Clin. North Am. 27 (4): 685–712, x. doi:10.1016/j.emc.2009.07.007. PMID 19932401.
  13. "Heartburn and Regurgitation". Archived from the original on 2011-01-16. Retrieved 2010-06-21.
  14. 14.0 14.1 14.2 14.3 14.4 Fass R (January 2009). "Functional heartburn: what it is and how to treat it". Gastrointest. Endosc. Clin. N. Am. 19 (1): 23–33, v. doi:10.1016/j.giec.2008.12.002. PMID 19232278.
  15. 15.0 15.1 The Mayo Clinic Heartburn page Archived 2010-05-23 at the Wayback Machine.Accessed May 18, 2010.
  16. 16.0 16.1 The MedlinePlus Heartburn page Archived 2016-04-25 at the Wayback Machine Accessed May 18, 2010.
  17. National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse (NDDIC): Upper GI Series Archived 2010-05-27 at the Wayback Machine Accessed May 18, 2010.
  18. MedlinePlus: Esophageal spasms Archived 2010-05-17 at the Wayback Machine Accessed April 18, 2010.
  19. Differential diagnosis in primary care. Philadelphia: Wolters Kluwer Health/Lippincott Williams & Wilkins. 2008. p. 213. ISBN 978-0-7817-6812-2.
  20. Swap CJ, Nagurney JT (November 2005). "Value and limitations of chest pain history in the evaluation of patients with suspected acute coronary syndromes". JAMA. 294 (20): 2623–9. doi:10.1001/jama.294.20.2623. PMID 16304077.
  21. Hanke, Barbara K.; Schwartz, George Robert (1999). Principles and practice of emergency medicine. Baltimore: Williams & Wilkins. pp. 656. ISBN 978-0-683-07646-2.
  22. "What Are Antacids? - TUMS®". www.heartburn.com. Archived from the original on 2 March 2017. Retrieved 29 April 2018.
  23. Kushner PR (April 2010). "Role of the primary care provider in the diagnosis and management of heartburn". Curr Med Res Opin. 26 (4): 759–65. doi:10.1185/03007990903553812. PMID 20095795. S2CID 206964899.

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