Heartburn & 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 occurs when stomach acid escapes into your esophagus and is one type of indigestion.

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 allows 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.

Heartburn is quite common—up to 20% of Americans suffer from heartburn on a weekly basis. It doesn’t discriminate either, it affects men and women, young and old, even infants and young kids.

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 lots 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—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 medical people call it dyspepsia. Whichever term you use, indigestion is an uncomfortable, sometimes painful, feeling you get in your stomach, usually during or after eating.

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 can also lead to indigestion. Swallowing too much air while eating can cause belching and bloating, which is another variation of indigestion.

Other indigestion triggers include stress, smoking, drinking caffeinated, carbonated or alcoholic drinks.

What are the symptoms of indigestion?

Depending on what’s causing your indigestion, you may experience abdominal pain, bloating (full feeling), belching and gas, nausea, vomiting, acidic taste, "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. So, speak to your doctor if your symptoms are severe or last for more than 2 weeks.