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Heartburn? Acid Reflux? What’s the Difference?

We’ve all been there.

Enjoying a beautiful plate of nasi lemak paired with a glass of teh tarik. Enjoying the best breakfast imaginable. Potentially, having a great day ahead.

All of a sudden, you feel a slight discomfort in your chest. It slowly creeps up your throat, gradually turning into a burning sensation. What is this feeling? Is it the burning love of nasi lemak?

Although it loves you as much as you love it, these are symptoms of heartburn which are probably caused by the nasi lemak.

What a tragic end to a beautiful love story.

The good news is that heartburn is a very common condition. Most of the time, it is manageable through lifestyle changes and non prescription medication.

What is heartburn? What is acid reflux?

While it is called a heartburn, no burning of the heart is actually involved. In fact, the heart is not involved at all.

Instead, heartburn is a condition that occurs in the digestive system, specifically, the stomach and the oesophagus. It’s called heartburn due to the burning sensation that is felt in the middle of the chest, near the heart.

This burning sensation happens when stomach acid moves up into the oesophagus. This is also known as acid reflux.

Unlike the stomach, which has a mucus lining on the inner surface, the oesophagus is unable to withstand the acidity of the stomach acid. This causes inflammation and irritation of the oesophagus.

This condition happens due to having large meals or consuming food that’s acidic, high in fat or spicy.

If this all sounds a bit confusing, here is a rough simplified flowchart version of heartburn.

simplified flowchart of heartburn

What are the symptoms of heartburn?

The sensation of heartburn typically feels like burning behind your breastbone, in the center of your chest, and can last from a few minutes to a few hours. Other than that, you may also feel symptoms like:

  • Chest pain when bending over.
  • Burning feeling in the throat.
  • Sour or acidic taste in the back of the throat.
  • Difficulty swallowing.

Managing heartburn

So, does this mean that you will have to give up your love for your favourite nasi lemak? Calm down, there’s no need to be hasty!

Now that we’ve identified the condition, let’s explore how to manage heartburn.

As mentioned above, heartburn can be managed either through lifestyle changes or by consuming non prescription medication.

To avoid heartburn, some of the things that can be done are:

  • Not going to bed with a full stomach.
  • Limit meal size and avoid heavy evening meals.
  • Eating slowly.
  • Avoiding food that triggers heartburn such as high-fat and spicy foods, caffeinated drinks and onions.
  • Lose weight.
  • Stop smoking for smokers.
  • Avoid alcohol.
  • Over the counter medications.

Although heartburn is common, if it happens more than once a week, it may be a cause for concern.

If this does happen, schedule an appointment with one of our gastroenterologists as soon as possible. Our experienced doctors will examine you and provide you with the next step of treatment to help stop any digestive issues that you may be experiencing.

Information By:

Dr Jasminder Kaur

Consultant Gastroenterologist & Hepatologist

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