What Does Heartburn Feel Like?

Common signs include burning sensations in the chest and throat

Businesswoman sitting in front of a computer with her hand on her chest
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If you've never had heartburn, you may wonder how it feels. Heartburn is a symptom and not a disorder by itself. Heartburn is the most common symptom of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) or acid reflux.

If you have unusual or severe sensations in your chest, it is important that you seek medical attention for a possible heart attack. Symptoms of a heart attack include chest pain, chest pressure, a cold sweat, fatigue, nausea, dizziness, or fainting.

Don't wait or assume it may be heartburn, contact emergency medical help.

Heartburn Symptoms

Many people have different heartburn triggers, but most people have similar heartburn symptoms.

  • A burning sensation in the chest: This burning sensation usually starts behind the breastbone (the sternum), and may travel up to the throat. It usually occurs shortly after eating and can last from a few minutes to several hours.
  • A burning feeling in the throat: There can be several causes of a burning throat, such as a sore throat or inflammation of the adenoids. A more common cause of this burning sensation is Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). There can also be a sour, salty, or acidic taste in the mouth. This is a sensation of burning, usually high up in the neck though it can occur lower. The pain may worsen with swallowing. This burning sensation can result from irritation when stomach contents reflux up into the throat.
  • Sour or bitter taste in the mouth: This sour or bitter taste can occur when stomach contents reflux up into the esophagus and may reach the back of the throat. When the contents enter the back of the throat, a person will often have a sour or bitter taste in their mouth.
  • Difficulty swallowing: Trouble with swallowing (dysphagia) occurs when food does not pass normally from the mouth through the esophagus to the stomach. There may be a sensation of food sticking in the throat, chest pressure or "burning" after eating, or a feeling of choking. Difficulty swallowing could be a sign of various conditions, including erosive esophagitis and esophageal cancer, and should always be evaluated by a physician.
  • Chronic coughing: In some studies, GERD accounted for about 41 percent of cases of chronic cough in nonsmoking patients. If stomach acid reflux (back up) into the esophagus and is aspirated, it can cause coughing.
  • Wheezing or other asthma-like symptoms: Several studies suggest a significant link between GERD and asthma. The results of these studies show that up to 60 percent of people with asthma also have gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), compared with 10 percent of the general population. GERD can affect asthma when stomach acid reflux into the esophagus and is aspirated into the airways and lungs and can make breathing difficult and cause the patient to wheeze and cough.

Heartburn Triggers

Heartburn can be triggered for a number of reasons. These causes can include eating foods that often trigger heartburn, such as acidic foods (e.g. tomatoes and citrus fruits), drinking alcohol, smoking cigarettes, being pregnant, and being overweight.

When to See Your Doctor

For any new symptoms of heartburn that occur more than twice a week and aren't relieved by over-the-counter antacids, you should see your doctor. She will assess your heart health as well as your digestive symptoms. If you have chronic heartburn, you should speak with your doctor.

The two of you can discuss a treatment plan that works for you. A doctor will usually suggest lifestyle modifications first. You can also reduce your chances of heartburn occurring by avoiding foods that can trigger heartburn, and learning how to sleep to prevent nighttime heartburn.


Symptoms & Causes of GER & GERD. National Institute of Diabetes Digestive and Kidney Diseases. https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/digestive-diseases/acid-reflux-ger-gerd-adults/symptoms-causes.