The study is published in the Archives of Surgery.
Researchers surveyed nearly 3,000 Australian adults living in the community and more than 2,000 men and women who were having surgery to correct their gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).
Both women in the community and those who were having surgery complained of more frequent and severe heartburn than men. They also reported having more trouble swallowing solid foods. They were also slightly more likely than men to be taking medication to treat their heartburn.
But when doctors looked at the characteristics of patients who came in for surgery, they found that men actually had more physical manifestations of acid reflux disease.
The men, who were about seven years younger than the female surgical patients, were more likely to have weak valves where the esophagus meets the stomach. Experts say that can be a problem people are born with, but it can also develop over time because of chronic acid exposure.
Experts say the findings could signal a couple of things.
The first is that men may be experiencing significant symptoms of heartburn and acid reflux but are less willing to seek help than women.
Researchers say that's a phenomenon that's been well documented in other areas of health, too.
"In general, I think, in medicine, males tend to underreport the severity of their symptoms," says Anthony Starpoli, MD, a gastroenterologist who is associate director of esophageal endotherapy at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City. "So I don't think there's a gender difference in the actual sensory pathways."