Glossary of Heartburn Terms

Medically Reviewed by Minesh Khatri, MD on November 26, 2022
10 min read

Acid reflux: The backflow of stomach contents into the esophagus. Acid reflux generally occurs because the lower esophageal sphincter (LES) relaxes and allows harsh stomach juices to flow back up into the esophagus.

Acid blockers: Medicines that reduce the production of acid in the stomach to treat heartburn and acid indigestion. Proton pump inhibitors(PPI) and Histamine(H2) blockers are the two main types of acid blockers.

Angina : Also called angina pectoris, a discomfort or pressure, usually in the chest, caused by an inadequate blood supply to the heart muscle. Discomfort may also be felt in the neck, jaw, or arms.

Antacids: medications commonly used for the treatment of heartburn. Antacids treat heartburn symptoms as they occur and work by neutralizing acid in the stomach for a short period of time.

Appendix: A small, finger-like tube located where the large and small intestine join. It has no known function.

Barium swallow: A test that uses a special substance called barium to coat the esophagus, stomach, and upper part of the small intestine so that they can be seen on a X-ray.

Barrett's esophagus: A condition marked by abnormal cells lining the lower part of the esophagus that develops in response to acid injury. This condition increases the risk of developing cancer of the esophagus.

Bile: A substance that aids in the digestion of fat and eliminates waste products from the blood.

Biliary system: The gallbladder and bile ducts.

Biopsy : Removal of a sample of tissue for study, usually under a microscope.

Cannulas: A hollow tube with a sharp, retractable inner core that can be inserted into a vein, an artery, or another body cavity.

Carcinoma: Cancer that begins in the skin or in tissues that line or cover internal organs.

Clinical trial: A type of research study that tests how well new medical approaches work in people. These studies test new methods of screening, prevention, diagnosis, or treatment of a disease. They may also compare a new treatment to an old one. Clinical trial is also called a clinical study.

Colon : see large intestine

Diaphragm: The muscle below the lungs and heart separating the chest cavity from the abdominal cavity and serves as the main muscle in breathing.

Digestive tract: The system that turns the food you eat into nutrients, which the body uses for energy, growth and cell repair. The digestive system extends from the mouth to the throat, esophagus, stomach, small intestine, large intestine, rectum, and anus. The pancreas, salivary glands, liver, and gallbladder all connect to the digestive tract, producing essential substances for healthy digestion.

Duodenum: First part of the small intestine that connects to the lower part of the stomach.

Dysphagia: Difficulty swelling. Swallowing and esophageal disorders may be temporary, or they may be an indication of a serious medical problem. Swallowing disorders have many causes, including nerve and muscle problems, head and neck injuries, and cancer, or they may occur as the result of a stroke. Most are not related to serious problems and can be treated with medications.

Endoscope: A thin, lighted tube used to look at tissues inside the body.

Endoscopy: A procedure that uses a lighted flexible instrument that allows the doctor to see the inside of the digestive tract. The device, called an endoscope, can be passed through the mouth or through the anus, depending on which part of the digestive tract is being examined. This method is referred to by different names depending on the area being examined, such as: esophagoscopy (esophagus), gastroscopy (stomach), upper endoscopy or esophagogastroduodenoscopy (EGD)(for the esophagus, stomach, first part of the small intestine), sigmoidoscopy (lower part of the large intestine), and lower endoscopy or colonoscopy (entire large intestine).

Enzyme: A protein that speeds up a chemical reaction. See gastric enzymes.

24-hour Esophageal pH test: A test used to measure the pH or amount of acid that flows into the esophagus from the stomach during a 24-hour period. It is also used to determine the effectiveness of medications that are given to patients to prevent acid reflux.

Esophageal manometry test: A test used to measure the strength and muscle coordination of the esophagus.

Esophageal ulcer: A sore or erosion of the lining of the esophagus generally caused by excessive exposure to acid.

Esophagitis: An inflammation, irritation, or ulceration of the lining of the esophagus. This injury is often caused by the excessive exposure of the esophagus to stomach acid. Other causes of esophagitis include fungal and bacterial infections.

Esophagus: The tube-like structure that connects the mouth to the stomach and acts as a passageway for food. This organ is one of several that make up the digestive system.

Fats: Substances that help the body use some vitamins and keep the skin healthy. They are also one of the main ways the body stores energy.

Fluoroscopy: A continuous X-ray beam is passed through the body. The technique allows the doctor to observe how an organ performs its normal function; for example, how the esophagus works during swallowing.

Fundoplication: A procedure that involves wrapping the upper part of the stomach around the lower esophageal sphincter (the ring of muscle that opens and closes to allow food into the stomach) to create a band that prevents stomach acids from backing up.

Fundus: Upper part of the stomach.

Gallbladder: A pear-shaped reservoir that sits just under the liver. It stores and concentrates bile. During a meal, the gallbladder contracts, sending bile to the duodenum to help absorb and digest fats.

Gastric: Pertaining to the stomach.

Gastric enzymes: Term often used to describe all the digestive enzymes, which are substances in the stomach and digestive system that break down food. Pepsin is an enzyme in the stomach that breaks down proteins. Lipase is an enzyme produced by the pancreas that breaks down fats in the duodenum. Amylase is also produced by the pancreas and breaks down starch. Maltase, sucrase, and lactase are other enzymes secreted in the small intestine to convert certain sugars.

Gastric juice: A mixture produced by the cells of the stomach that contains hydrochloric acid and digestive enzymes.

Gastritis: An inflammation of the lining of the stomach from any cause, including infection or alcohol.

Gastroenterologist: A doctor who specializes in diseases and conditions of the gastrointestinal tract.

Gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD: A digestive condition that develops when the reflux of stomach contents causes troublesome symptoms and/or complications. Heartburn is the most common symptom of GERD, but regurgitation, difficulty swallowing, and a feeling of a lump in the throat are other symptoms.

Gastroscopy: Procedure performed to examine the stomach, esophagus and duodenum using a thin, lighted tube called a gastroscope, or endoscope, which is passed through the mouth and into the stomach and duodenum.

H2 blockers: Histamine blockers - A type of medication that falls into a group known as acid blockers or suppressors. These drugs prevent a substance called histamine from stimulating acid production.

Heart attack: Permanent damage to the heart muscle caused by a lack of blood supply to the heart for an extended time period. Some of the symptoms of a heart attack are similar to those of heartburn.

Heartburn: A burning discomfort that is generally felt in the chest just behind the breastbone. The burning sensation results when harsh stomach juices come in contact with and irritate the delicate lining of the esophagus. (Also known as acid indigestion).

Hernia : protrusion of part of a structure through the tissues normally containing it.

Hiatal hernia: A condition that occurs when the upper part of the stomach moves into the chest cavity through a hole in the diaphragm, the muscle below the lungs and heart separating the chest cavity from the abdominal cavity.

Hiatus: A gap or a passage in an anatomical part or organ.

Laparoscope: A thin, telescope-like instrument with a miniature video camera and light source used to transmit images to a video monitor during laparoscopic surgery.

Laparoscopic antireflux surgery: A minimally invasive procedure that corrects GERD by creating an improved valve mechanism at the bottom part of the esophagus.

Laparoscopic surgery: Also known as laparoscopy, a surgical method that is much less invasive than traditional surgery. Tiny incisions are made to create a passageway for a special instrument called a laparoscope that transmits images to a video monitor. The surgeon watches the video screen while performing the procedure with small instruments that pass through small tubes, or catheters, placed in the incisions.

Large intestine: The long, tube-like organ that is connected to the small intestine at one end and the anus at the other. The large intestine has four parts: cecum, colon, rectum, and anal canal. Partly digested food moves through the cecum into the colon, where water and some nutrients and electrolytes are removed. The remaining material, solid waste called stool, moves through the colon, is stored in the rectum, and leaves the body through the anal canal and anus.

LINX reflux management system: A surgically placed device used to treat the symptoms associated with GERD consisting of a ring of titanium beads placed around the outside of the lower esophageal sphincter (LES). It's designed to strengthen the sphincter while still allowing food and liquids to pass through to the stomach.

Liver : The large organ in the upper right abdomen that performs vital chemical functions, including cleansing the blood; helping digestion by secreting bile; creating sugars and fats; and detoxifying poisons.

Lower esophageal sphincter: The natural valve that keeps stomach contents in the stomach and out of the esophagus. When working properly, this important muscle operates like a door, letting food into the stomach but not back up into the esophagus. Also known as LES.

LES: Abbreviation for lower esophageal sphincter.

Nausea: A queasy feeling that leads to stomach distress, a distaste for food, and an urge to vomit. Nausea is not a disease, but a symptom of many conditions. It can be brought on by illnesses such as influenza, medications, pain, and inner ear disease.

Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs): A class of drugs that is effective in reducing inflammation and pain without steroids. Examples of these drugs include aspirin, naproxen, and ibuprofen.

Manometry test: See esophageal manometry test

Minimally invasive surgery: See laparoscopic surgery

Pancreas: The organ behind the stomach that is about the size of a hand. The pancreas secretes enzymes into the small intestine to break down protein, fat, and carbohydrates from the food we eat. The pancreas also produces several hormones, including insulin.

Paraesophageal hernia: A type of hiatal hernia in which part of the stomach is pushed or squeezed upward through the diaphragm, moving it next to the lower esophagus. Although you can have this type without any symptoms, there is danger that the stomach could become "strangled," cutting off its blood supply.

Pathology: The study of the characteristics, causes, and effects of a disease.

Peristalsis: A series of involuntary muscular contractions that form a wave-like motion to propel food through the esophagus to the stomach. This same process is used by the intestines to propel digested food and waste.

Promotility agents: Prescription drugs used in the treatment of severe heartburn or GERD. These medications help speed gastric emptying, reducing the amount of time that stomach contents stay in the stomach. They may also help strengthen the LES and thereby decrease the amount of stomach acid that can potentially reflux into the esophagus.

Proton pump inhibitors: The most powerful type of acid suppressors. These medications work by preventing acid pumps in the stomach from producing too much acid.

Reflux: To flow back or return.

Regurgitation: The backward flow of the contents of the stomach into the throat or mouth in small amounts, short of vomiting.

Risk factor: A characteristic or event that predisposes a person to a certain condition.

Sliding hernia: The most common type of hiatal hernia that occurs when the lower esophagus and the upper stomach slide into the chest cavity through an opening, or hiatus, in the diaphragm. Heartburn and acid reflux may be caused by a sliding hernia.

Small intestine: The portion of the intestinal tract that first receives food from the stomach. It is divided into three sections: the duodenum, the jejunum, and the ileum. As food travels through the small intestine it is further broken down by enzymes, and nutrients from the food are absorbed into the bloodstream.

Sphincter: See lower esophageal sphincter.

Stomach: A sac-like organ with muscular walls that holds, mixes, and grinds food. The stomach secretes acid and enzymes that continue the process of breaking down the food.

Stomach (gastric) cancer : Disease in which cancer cells are found in the lining of the stomach. Stomach cancer can develop in any part of the stomach and may spread throughout the stomach to other organs. Frequently caused by a bacterial infection called H.pylori.

Swallowing problems: See Dysphagia

Trocar: A sharp, pointed instrument used to make a puncture incision in the abdominal wall. Used for placement of cannulas.

Ultrasound: A test used to diagnose a wide range of diseases and conditions in which high-frequency sound waves, inaudible to the human ear, are transmitted through body tissues. The echoes vary according to the tissue density. The echoes are recorded and translated into video or photographic images that are displayed on a monitor.

Upper endoscopy: A test used to evaluate the upper digestive system, including the esophagus, stomach, and first part of the small intestine called the duodenum. During the test, a thin scope with a light and camera at its tip (endoscope) is used to examine the inside of the upper digestive tract.

Vomiting: The forcible expulsion of the contents of the stomach through the mouth which usually occurs with symptoms of nausea. Vomiting is not a disease but a symptom of many conditions.