Heartburn can cause a burning sensation, which can affect the neck and throat. A person may also experience other symptoms depending on the area it affects, such as pressure in the chest or jaw ache.

Heartburn occurs when acid from the stomach backs up into the esophagus, the tube that transports food from the mouth to the stomach.

It is a common occurrence and affects around 20% of the population of Western countries.

This article discusses what heartburn feels like, when it occurs, and the duration of symptoms. It also considers other symptoms, heartburn vs. heart attack symptoms, and treatment.

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Heartburn can cause sensations such as:

  • a sharp, burning pain that travels from the upper stomach or area behind the breastbone to the throat
  • a feeling of pressure in the chest
  • a sour, acidic taste in the throat accompanied by a raw, burning sensation
  • jaw ache
  • difficulty swallowing
  • gurgling sensation in the stomach, accompanied by sounds
  • a feeling of fullness in the stomach
  • nausea

The passage between the esophagus and the stomach remains closed most of the time, and only opens when a mixture of saliva and chewed food reaches it.

Once the food has passed through and reached the stomach, the opening closes again to stop the contents of the stomach from flowing back up.

If the stomach has become stretched, such as after a large meal, a muscle called the sphincter at the entrance to the stomach may loosen. This can allow stomach contents or gas to travel back into the esophagus.

Digestive fluid from the stomach can irritate the lining of the esophagus, which can cause the burning sensation associated with heartburn.

Heartburn often occurs after eating, and a person’s symptoms may worsen if they:

  • perform physical activities or exercise soon after a meal
  • consume certain foods or liquids that trigger their heartburn, such as spicy or fatty foods
  • lie down
  • lie on their right side
  • bend forward
  • eat too soon before going to bed
  • are pregnant

Symptoms of heartburn can last for several hours.

People who experience heartburn more than twice a week or regularly experience severe symptoms may have gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), a persistent, long-term condition.

Besides feelings of burning, discomfort, and pressure, a person may also have symptoms of heartburn that include:

Because the esophagus is near the heart, it can cause pain in the chest. In some cases, people mistake the feeling of heartburn for a heart attack or vice versa.

If a person is concerned about chest pain, they should contact a doctor to rule out the most severe causes. It is important to seek emergency medical attention if a person experiences symptoms of a heart attack:

  • pain, discomfort, squeezing, pressure, or fullness in the chest that comes and goes or lasts longer than a few minutes
  • pain or discomfort in one or both arms, the stomach, jaw, neck, or back
  • shortness of breath with or without pain or discomfort in the chest
  • breaking out into a cold sweat, lightheadedness, and nausea

In females, chest pain and discomfort are common symptoms of heart attack. However, they may experience symptoms that people less commonly associate with heart attacks, such as:

  • nausea and vomiting
  • shortness of breath
  • pain in the jaw and back

Learn more about heart attack symptoms in females.

People may treat heartburn with lifestyle changes, medication, or both.

Lifestyle changes that can help treat or prevent heartburn include:

  • eating smaller, more frequent meals instead of larger meals
  • raising the head and chest with pillows above the level of the waist while lying down
  • not eating within 3–4 hours before bedtime
  • avoiding foods and liquids that trigger heartburn
  • stopping smoking
  • avoiding excessive alcohol

Over-the-counter medication includes:

  • antacids, such as Rolaids, TUMS, and Alka-Seltzer
  • alginates, such as Gaviscon

In severe cases, a doctor may prescribe a proton pump inhibitor (PPI) medication, such as:

Heartburn can cause a variety of unpleasant symptoms. People typically experience a feeling of sharp, burning pain behind the breastbone, that travels upward into the throat.

The burning sensation may be accompanied by feelings of pressure in the chest, fullness in the stomach, and aching in the jaw. Some people may also feel nauseous, hear and feel gurgling in the stomach, and may have an acidic, sour taste in the mouth and throat.

The symptoms typically begin soon after eating and may get worse when a person lies down, bends over, or performs physical activity. If a person experiences heartburn more than twice a week, they may have GERD.

People sometimes confuse symptoms of heartburn for those of a heart attack, and vice versa. Anyone who experiences chest pain should contact a doctor to rule out the most severe causes.