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Heartburn Symptoms Checklist

Think you may have nighttime heartburn or GERD? Look for these signs.
By
WebMD Feature
Reviewed by Venkat Mohan, MD

One of the problems with chronic heartburn or GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease) is that you may not know you have it. Many people aren't completely woken up by GERD symptoms at night. In some cases of GERD, there may be no symptoms at all, even when you're awake. However, there are a number of things you should look for.

  • Waking up to a bitter, acidic taste in your mouth
  • Sharp, burning pain in your chest that can extend up to your neck and throat
  • Fatigue during the day
  • Chronic cough or fits of coughing that wake you up in the night
  • Sore throat, hoarseness, or asthma attacks

In some cases of GERD, the acid can rise so high in the esophagus that a person can actually breathe it in. This can lead to respiratory problems, such as cough or hoarseness.

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Despite its name, heartburn has nothing to do with the heart. Some of the symptoms, however, are similar to those of a heart attack or heart disease. Heartburn is an irritation of the esophagus that is caused by stomach acid. This can create a burning discomfort in the upper abdomen or below the breast bone. With gravity's help, a muscular valve called the lower esophageal sphincter, or LES, keeps stomach acid in the stomach. The LES is located where the esophagus meets the stomach -- below the...

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There are other symptoms that experts call "warning signs." Any of them should be checked out right away.

  • Trouble swallowing or painful swallowing
  • Coughing up or vomiting blood
  • Blood in the stool
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Fever

Keep in mind, the symptoms of heartburn are similar in some ways to the symptoms of heart trouble. If you're experiencing pain that feels different from your usual heartburn, get it checked out immediately. Pain after physical activity -- as opposed to after a spicy meal -- is also a worrisome sign. If you have even the slightest doubt about your chest pain, err on the side of caution. Treat it as a medical emergency and go to the nearest emergency room.

Reviewed on September 01, 2006

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