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Do I Have Acid Reflux or GERD?: Clearing Up The Lingo

Do you have Acid Reflux, Acid Reflux Disease or Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease? Or is it Heartburn or Indigestion? Is there a difference? When it comes to discussing the digestive system, the lingo can be very confusing.

With all of the information on the internet and an entire aisle in the store devoted to digestive conditions, it may seem easy to self diagnose and self treat reflux symptoms. The bottom line is your first stop is the doctor’s office for a diagnosis and treatment plan. If you have frequent symptoms such as heartburn, indigestion, burning, throat pain, difficulty swallowing and irritation to your esophagus, the doctor may diagnose G astroe sophageal R eflux D isease or GERD.

The drug manufacturers and the popular press have coined the term Acid Reflux or Acid Reflux Disease to describe Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease. So the term Acid Reflux Disease is another way of saying you have Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease. Your doctor will most likely use the medical terminology such as GERD.

Sometimes GERD is called “heartburn” or “indigestion”. However, these terms are more descriptive of the symptoms of reflux. Heartburn is the burning you feel in your chest after a meal and indigestion is the discomfort and burning in your stomach and esophagus after eating. Most people experience heartburn or indigestion on occasion and this is normal. Think of how you feel after Thanksgiving dinner or after a few trips to the buffet at the “all you can eat” brunch. If you have occasional heartburn or indigestion, you probably don’t have GERD but a normal physiological condition with a long name (of course!): Gastroesophageal Reflux or GER. Do you see why most people say “heartburn” or “indigestion” instead?!

When I talk to a friend or someone on HealthCentral, I often use Acid Reflux or just “reflux” for short but I am really talking about Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease or GERD. If you tell someone you have GERD, a common response is, “Oh yeah, I have heartburn too. Every time I eat ___, I get heartburn.” However, they are most likely experiencing GER and not GERD. Now you know the difference so you can say, “Well I have” (pick one):

Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease


Acid Reflux Disease


Check with your
doctor first!