Heartburn vs. Indigestion: Know the Differences

Medically Reviewed By Megan Soliman, MD
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People tend to use the terms “heartburn” and “indigestion” interchangeably. While they are similar, they are not quite the same thing. Heartburn is a symptom of various digestive problems.

Indigestion is the common name for the condition dyspepsia. It occurs when your body is not digesting food properly. Heartburn can be a symptom of dyspepsia. 

This article goes over the differences between heartburn and indigestion. It includes information about the symptoms, causes, diagnosis, and treatment of each.

What are the symptoms of heartburn and indigestion?

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Technically, there are no symptoms of heartburn because it is a symptom itself. Heartburn is a painful burning sensation in the

upper abdomen and area behind the breastbone. This feeling is due to stomach acid refluxing into the esophagus.

In severe cases of heartburn, acid can burn the back of your throat. Heartburn can occur along with other symptoms in several conditions affecting the stomach.

Indigestion, or dyspepsia, is a medical condition. It has several symptoms, including heartburn. Other symptoms of indigestion include:

What causes heartburn vs. indigestion?

Both heartburn and indigestion are common and can occur from time to time. When people experience either, or both, it may be due to lifestyle habits, including:

  • eating certain foods, such as acidic, spicy, fatty, or greasy foods
  • eating too much or too late in the day
  • drinking alcohol or caffeine
  • not getting enough sleep
  • smoking

Heartburn causes

Heartburn is the result of acid reflux. Normally, a muscle at the bottom of the esophagus prevents stomach acid from backing up into it. If this sphincter muscle does not stay closed or close all the way, acid can enter the esophagus. A weak sphincter muscle can cause this, as can too much pressure in the stomach. 

Conditions that can cause heartburn include:

Some medications can also cause heartburn. These include certain antibiotics, antianxiety medicines, and high blood pressure medicines.

Indigestion causes

Indigestion and its cluster of symptoms occur when you have trouble digesting food properly. Conditions that can lead to indigestion include:

How do you treat heartburn?

The main treatment for occasional heartburn is over-the-counter (OTC) antacids. These drugs can quickly reduce the painful burning sensation. They do this by neutralizing stomach acid. Antacid preparations include aluminum hydroxide, calcium carbonate, and others.

For more sustained relief, proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) and H2 blockers are effective. These drugs reduce stomach acid production. There are both OTC and prescription versions for both of these classes. 

PPIs include:

  • dexlansoprazole (Dexilant) 
  • esomeprazole (Nexium)
  • lansoprazole (Prevacid)
  • omeprazole (Prilosec)
  • pantoprazole (Protonix)
  • rabeprazole (Aciphex)

H2 blockers include:

  • cimetidine (Tagamet)
  • famotidine (Pepcid)
  • nizatidine (Axid)

When heartburn is chronic, doctors look for an underlying condition, such as GERD. Treating the underlying cause can help relieve heartburn.

How do you treat indigestion?

Similar to heartburn, you can manage symptoms of indigestion that occur from time to time with antacids, PPIs, and H2 blockers. Additional medicines can relieve other symptoms, such as gas and bloating. Examples include simethicone (Mylanta Gas).

Like heartburn, chronic indigestion usually points to an underlying cause. Treatment involves addressing the cause. You may need to take OTC or prescription drugs, depending on the cause.

How do you prevent heartburn and indigestion?

Lifestyle changes are the key to preventing heartburn and indigestion. One of the main changes is to identify foods and beverages that trigger symptoms.

Keeping a food diary can help you see the link between what you eat and how you feel.

Other ways to prevent heartburn and indigestion include:

  • avoiding food late at night or too close to bedtime
  • eating several smaller meals throughout the day instead of three large ones and not eating large quantities of food
  • limiting alcohol
  • losing weight
  • managing stress and getting enough sleep
  • quitting smoking and tobacco use
  • raising your upper body when lying down 
  • staying upright for a couple of hours after you eat

When to contact a doctor

Occasional heartburn or indigestion is normal for most people. However, if symptoms happen regularly or if they are severe, it could mean there is something more to it. Persistent heartburn can also lead to problems with the esophagus. 

Contact your doctor for heartburn or indigestion that occurs more than twice a week for a couple of weeks. You should also make an appointment if OTC medicines are not relieving your symptoms.

Other reasons for concern include heartburn or indigestion with:

Both indigestion and heartburn can mimic symptoms of a heart attack and other serious conditions. Seek medical care right away for serious symptoms, including:


There is a close relationship between heartburn and indigestion. Heartburn is generally a symptom of other digestive problems, including indigestion. Indigestion is a condition in which the body is not digesting food normally.

A cluster of other symptoms can occur with indigestion. Treatment for both of them is similar unless there is a chronic underlying cause. Having either of them from time to time is a normal part of life. 

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Medical Reviewer: Megan Soliman, MD
Last Review Date: 2022 Mar 29
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THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.
  1. Acid reflux (GER and GERD) in adults. (n.d.). https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/digestive-diseases/acid-reflux-ger-gerd-adults
  2. Francis, P., et al. (2021). Functional dyspepsia. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK554563/  
  3. Heartburn. (2021). https://familydoctor.org/condition/heartburn/
  4. Indigestion (dyspepsia). (2021). https://familydoctor.org/condition/indigestion-dyspepsia/