You get this problem when stomach acid moves into a tube called the oesophagus, which carries food from your mouth to the stomach. When that happens, you could have a burning pain in your chest. Your throat might burn, and you could have a sour taste in your mouth or a cough. You may also hear it called GERD (gastro-oesophageal reflux disease), which is heartburn that happens often. But other conditions can have similar symptoms.
Angina: It is easy to confuse heartburn with angina, which happens when not enough blood flows to your heart. But heartburn tends to happen after meals or when you are lying down. Angina is more common after you have been active. The feeling in your chest is more like "tightness" or "squeezing" than the burning pain of heartburn. Angina symptoms mean you are at risk for a heart attack.
Heart attack: While heartburn pain stays in your chest or throat, during a heart attack, a squeezing or aching pressure may spread to your arms, back, or jaw. Other heart attack symptoms include shortness of breath, a cold sweat, and feeling dizzy without warning. Women are more likely to also have an upset stomach or throw up.
Gallstones: Gallstones are pebble-like bits of cholesterol or digestive fluids (bile) that end up in your gallbladder. If you have gallstones, after a fatty meal you may have heartburn symptoms that can last for hours. You will likely ache in the centre or right side of your belly and could feel pain behind your shoulders or rib cage. If this happens to you, see a doctor.
Stomach ulcer: Sometimes a portion of the lining of your stomach or small intestine breaks down. An open sore, called an ulcer, forms. It can cause burning stomach pain and heartburn that is worse after you eat fatty foods. You will also have lots of belching and bloating. Your pain may be worse at night and between meals. If you have an ulcer, your doctor can prescribe medication to ease your pain and help your ulcer heal.
Hiatal hernia: If the diaphragm, the muscle separating your stomach and oesophagus, thins or weakens, part of your stomach may push upward. This allows the acid of your stomach to spill into the oesophagus. Acid and even food may come back up into your oesophagus and throat. Hiatal hernias can raise your chances of heartburn.
Anxiety: Your brain and gut are closely linked. If you feel stressed or anxious, your heart rate can go up and your breathing can get faster. The flood of hormones that causes this reaction can also upset your stomach. Besides heartburn, you can feel queasy, have diarrhoea, or get constipated. Learning to manage your stress through counselling, meditation, or hypnosis may help.
Oesophageal cancer: Long-term heartburn raises your odds of getting oesophageal cancer. If your heartburn keeps up despite treatment, your doctor will want to take a look inside your oesophagus. He usually does this with a procedure called an endoscopy. Other symptoms of oesophageal cancer include trouble swallowing and weight loss. Coughing and hoarseness are common, as is chest pain or pressure. If you have any of these symptoms, see your doctor right away.