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What Is the Difference between Heartburn and Indigestion?

By Erin J. Hill
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Although many believe that heartburn and indigestion are the same condition, there are slight differences between them. Heartburn is type or symptoms of indigestion, while indigestion is a relative term used to describe one of several potential stomach conditions which characterize the condition. In other words, indigestion is a term used to describe heartburn as well as reflux, sour stomach, and other conditions or symptoms. Both are caused by an increase in stomach acid that is usually related to eating foods that are spicy or hard to digest and sometimes by having an empty stomach.

The main cause of pain in heartburn and indigestion is acid being pushed back into the esophagus from the stomach. This causes a burning or uneasy sensation in the upper portion of the chest or lower throat. Acid may rise due to several factors, the most common being the consumption of foods that cause an increase in acid needed for digestion. Others may include weakened or underdeveloped sphincter muscles, an empty stomach, and certain stress-related conditions.

While the causes and symptoms of both conditions are relatively the same, heartburn differs from indigestion in that it is a symptoms of indigestion. One may suffer from indigestion without having heartburn, but if it isn't possible to have heartburn without indigestion. In this way, they are interrelated. Indigestion is simply a term used to describe almost any digestive upset when it occurs in the upper regions of the digestive tract, including the stomach and esophagus.

Sufferers who develop frequent heartburn and indigestion may have weakened muscles in the lower esophagus, also known as the esophageal sphincter. This muscle generally closes off once food has passed to keep acid and food in the stomach from leaking back upward. In those with weak muscles, stomach contents may be able to seep through and cause pain along with potential damage to the esophagus. This condition is called reflux.

There are several ways to prevent heartburn and indigestion from occurring. Avoiding trigger foods is one option. These can include spicy food, caffeine, and carbonated beverages. Having an empty stomach can also lead to heartburn pain because acid continuously churns in the stomach, but when no food is present, this acid can begin to rise. Eating small meals every three hours can help. These same methods will also help when attempting to prevent other forms of indigestion, such as sour stomach. Individuals can also incorporate Supergreens into their daily routine. Supergreens contain digestive enzymes that aid with digestion and prevent indigestion.

Stress and anxiety can also lead to heartburn pain, as can certain medications, sleep problems, and pregnancy. Making sure to take time to relax can help cut down on heartburn and indigestion pain related to anxiety, while medication dosages can also generally be tweaked if they are causing a problem. Pregnancy-related heartburn is caused by the growing baby putting pressure on the stomach, but eating small meals and sleeping somewhat upright can help to alleviate some symptoms.

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Discussion Comments
By ddljohn — On Mar 04, 2014

@SarahGen-- That happens to me too and it's definitely due to excess acidity. Indigestion can cause problems for many hours because that's precisely the problem, your stomach is having a hard time digesting. If you eat very acidic foods, that may also be the cause.

Are you using any heartburn remedies or medications? Try sipping on milk before going to bed. It's a good remedy for heartburn. Also, do not lie down flat. You need to put several pillows under your head to prevent the acid from moving up and causing heartburn. It takes a while getting used to but you will be fine. I have to sleep like that every night.

I have been doing better however since I started taking a proton pump inhibitor. This reduces acid production in the stomach and aids indigestion. It's available over the counter but ask your doctor about it first.

By SarahGen — On Mar 03, 2014

Does anyone here experience heartburn only at night, after going to bed? Whenever I lie in bed, I start experiencing heartburn. I don't eat anything for at least three hours before going to bed so it can't be acid indigestion right?

By literally45 — On Mar 02, 2014

Heartburn and indigestion are not the same thing, but it's understandable for people to confuse them as they almost always appear together. I know that I have indigestion when I experience heartburn symptoms. It means that my stomach has a lot of acidity and undigested food is causing the acid to move up towards the esophagus. It's a very uncomfortable feeling.

I use antacids when I have these symptoms but unfortunately, they don't work too well. It takes a while to see the effects and I have to take several tablets every few hours.

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