The Difference Between Heartburn & Indigestion
Heartburn is one type of indigestion.
Heartburn and indigestion are often used interchangeably, but they're actually different conditions. Indigestion is a general term that speaks to a wide range of digestive issues. Heartburn, on the other hand, occurs when stomach acid escapes into your esophagus. It’s one type of indigestion.1
What Is Heartburn?
Heartburn is a painful condition that's caused when stomach acid flows up into your esophagus. The lining of your esophagus simply doesn't have the same protective layers that allow your stomach to stand up to powerful digestive acids. So when acid flows up into your esophagus, a process called Acid Reflux, it causes a nagging pain in your chest, and possibly even your throat, called heartburn.2
Heartburn is quite common—up to 20% of Americans suffer from heartburn on a weekly basis. It affects men and women, young and old, even infants and young kids.3
Heartburn can last from a few minutes to several hours, and often feels worse after you eat. Not only is heartburn painful, it can also rob you of a good night's sleep.
What Triggers Heartburn?
Heartburn can be triggered by a lot of things, but eating is the main culprit. It can be caused by the specific foods you eat—we're looking at you, greasy fries and hot wings—as well as by eating too much, or simply eating a big, heavy meal close to bedtime.
Carbonated and alcoholic beverages can also give you heartburn. People who are overweight often suffer from heartburn. Even a few extra pounds can put pressure on your stomach, causing acid to back up into your esophagus.
What Is Indigestion?
You might call it an upset stomach, a stomachache, or even a bellyache—but the medical term is dyspepsia. Whichever term you use, indigestion is an uncomfortable, sometimes painful, feeling you get in your stomach, usually during or after eating.1
In most cases, indigestion is caused by eating too much, too fast, or by eating foods that your body doesn't respond well to—typically foods high in fat. Chewing with your mouth open also can lead to indigestion. Swallowing too much air while eating can cause belching and bloating, which is another variation of indigestion.4
Other indigestion triggers include stress, smoking, or drinking caffeinated, carbonated, or alcoholic drinks.4
What Triggers Indigestion?
Depending on what's causing your indigestion, you may experience abdominal pain, bloating (full feeling), belching and gas, nausea, vomiting, and acidic taste in your mouth, "growling" stomach, and even diarrhea. Symptoms usually get worse when you're stressed but normally go away in a few hours.
Indigestion can be linked to more serious chronic conditions, including ulcers, pancreas abnormalities, or acid reflux disease. Speak to your doctor if your symptoms are severe or last for more than two weeks.
- “Indigestion (Dyspepsia).” National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/digestive-diseases/indigestion-dyspepsia.
- “Heartburn Causes.” Mayo Clinic, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 7 Aug. 2014, www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/heartburn/basics/causes/con-20019545.
- Amos, Julie-Ann. “Acid Reflux (GERD) Statistics and Facts.” Healthline, Healthline Media, 30 June 2012, www.healthline.com/health/gerd/statistics.
- “Indigestion.” Mayo Clinic, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 24 Aug. 2016, www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/indigestion/symptoms-causes/dxc-20209277.