What’s the Difference Between Regular Heartburn and GERD?

You know the feeling.

Maybe you splurged and decided to have pizza for supper. Maybe you were enjoying a nice glass of red wine with your meal. Perhaps you were getting your daily caffeine fix.

Then it starts—the burning in the chest, the lump in your throat, and the pain of acid reflux that won’t go away without medicine.

Chronic heartburn that doesn’t go away despite popping several Tums or Rolaids could indicate that you’ve got GERD

What is GERD?

These four letters stand for gastroesophageal reflux disease—we know, that’s a mouthful. It happens when the acid from your stomach flows back into your throat.

Think of it as the worst heartburn you’ve ever had.

If left untreated, it could lead to cancer of the esophagus.  The esophagus is the long tube that food travels down from your throat into your stomach.

What Is the Difference Between Regular Heartburn and GERD?

Everyone has heartburn from time to time. There’s nothing unusual about that. Generally, taking an antacid helps. However, if you’re popping Tums more than three times a week, it’s time to speak to your doctor.

The technical definition of GERD is mild acid reflux that occurs twice a week or moderate to severe acid reflux that occurs once a week. When over-the-counter medicines don’t make a dent in the horrible heartburn, you likely have GERD.

What Are GERD Symptoms?

Obviously, heartburn is the main symptom, and it’s generally worse at night. Not sure if you have GERD? Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Does my heartburn make it difficult to sleep?
  • Do I have swallowing problems?
  • Do I sometimes spit up food or sour liquid?
  • Do I feel a lump in my throat?
  • Have I had a chronic cough or laryngitis with my heartburn?
  • Do I have chest pain?


We’d like to take a minute to elaborate on one of those symptoms: chest pain. You should always seek immediate medical care if you have chest pain, especially if it’s accompanied by jaw pain, shortness of breath or arm pain. These could be signs of a heart attack.

How Is GERD Diagnosed?

Often, your doctor can tell you have GERD by carefully evaluating your symptoms. It also helps the doctor if you keep a food journal and write down when you have your heartburn problems.

Sometimes, the diagnosis must be confirmed by doing an upper endoscopy, a pH probe test or a test using a Bravo capsule. The pH balances tell your doctor the level of acid in your throat.

What Happens During an Upper Endoscopy?

During this procedure, an endoscope—a thin tube with a light and camera—down your throat to detect any inflammation of your throat. Don’t worry: While you may feel some pressure as it passes down your throat, you should not feel any pain.

What Happens During a pH Probe Test?

A pH probe test measures the amount of stomach acid that comes up into your throat. This information is then relayed to a small computer that is typically worn around your waist.

What is the Bravo Capsule?

This is a wonder of medicine that sounds like something out of a science fiction movie. During an endoscopy, a small capsule, about the size of a gel cap is placed on the wall of your esophagus. It uses radio frequencies to send pH measurements to a receiver. The receiver is the size of a pager.

This information is then analyzed by your health care team. You’ll also be asked to keep a daily journal of what you eat and when.

How Is GERD Treated?

Fortunately, some basic lifestyle changes can provide relief from your GERD symptoms. These include:

  • Losing weight
  • Wearing loose-fitting clothing around the abdomen
  • Staying upright for at least three hours after you eat
  • Avoiding reclining or slouching when eating
  • Raising the head of the bed
  • Quitting smoking, if you smoke
  • Avoiding eating foods that cause GERD

If these are not successful, your doctor can prescribe prescription medication to help.

However, sometimes these lifestyle changes and medication are not enough. In these cases, surgery may be needed.

GERD Surgery

The most common surgery for GERD treatment involves using a laparoscope, which is a small and thin tube fitted with a tiny video camera. During the procedure, the top of your stomach is sewn around your esophagus. What this means is that pressure is added to reduce reflux.

The procedure is called a fundoplication. Usually, it’s done under general anesthesia in the hospital. You’re able to return to normal activities in around two weeks, depending upon your individual case.

There are other surgeries that involve endoscopic techniques. This means that the procedures are completed using an endoscope, which is a thin, small, flexible tube. They all involve tightening the esophageal sphincter—that is the group of muscles where your esophagus meets your stomach.

The Endoscopy Center at Conway Medical Center is a Leader in GERD Treatment

Our Endoscopy Center is a premier facility in eastern South Carolina providing an extensive array of endoscopic procedures. We have three board-certified gastroenterologists (doctors who treat diseases of the stomach, intestines and esophagus), four board-certified surgeons, and two board-certified pulmonologists (doctors who treat diseases of the lungs).

We perform an average of 500 procedures every month.

Our state-of-the-art facilities complement our experienced and highly trained support staff of nurses and technicians.

See why we ensure the highest standards of quality, safety, patient privacy and convenience. Contact us today to schedule an appointment.