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  • Acid reflux symptoms: what to look for and how to treat them

Acid reflux symptoms: what to look for and how to treat them

Acid reflux is a condition that happens when stomach acid goes up into the throat. It most commonly causes a burning sensation in your throat or chest.

Some people experience it from time to time. However, for others, it can be an ongoing condition. Either way, knowing the symptoms and when they occur is the best way to treat them - keep reading to learn more.

Medically reviewed by Dr. Anand Abbot MRCGP Written by our editorial team Last reviewed 14-01-2024

What causes symptoms?

Acid reflux happens when the stomach acid goes back up into your throat. It is related to the valve between your stomach and the throat, called the LES (lower oesophageal sphincter).

Graphic illustrating healthy stomach and GORD

The LES usually stops acid from coming back up, but the acid can escape through the open valve and cause symptoms when it's weakened.

This phenomenon is generally linked to your diet and is common in people who are overweight, smoke, have a condition like a hiatal hernia, are pregnant or take certain medications.

What are the most common acid reflux symptoms?

The most common symptoms of acid reflux include heartburn, a sour taste in your mouth, and indigestion.


The main symptom is heartburn. Heartburn feels like a burning sensation in the chest. It usually starts in the upper part of the stomach and spreads to the chest area. Woman clutching her chest from heartburn

Many people think that severe heartburn feels like a heart attack, but the symptoms are not the same.

A heart attack usually feels like an uncomfortable sensation in the centre or left side of your chest that spreads to your arm, neck, or jaw. It is usually described as a pressure, squeezing, or fullness sensation. People may also feel tired, dizzy, or have shortness of breath. These are not common symptoms of acid reflux.

Sour or bitter taste

When you get heartburn, it’s common to experience an unpleasant taste in your mouth. This occurs when the acid leaks into your throat.

It can also cause:

  • bad breath
  • a dry cough or hiccups
  • a hoarse voice


Dyspepsia, which is also known as indigestion, is a common sign of acid reflux.

Man clutching stomach from indigestion.

People with indigestion may have the following symptoms:

  • feeling full and bloated
  • feeling sick (nausea)
  • burping or flatulence
  • bringing up food or bitter-tasting fluids into your mouth (regurgitation)

It’s easy to confuse the terms indigestion, heartburn and acid reflux as they all are very similar. Indigestion and heartburn can also occur at the same time.

Unlike heartburn, indigestion can be caused by other digestive conditions, such as gallbladder inflammation and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).

When do symptoms occur?

Symptoms of heartburn usually happen after eating. This is especially true if you have eaten fatty, spicy or acidic foods.

Heartburn can also occur when you lie down or bend over because this position makes it easier for the acid to travel up to your throat. This is why it's common to experience symptoms of acid reflux at night because you’re lying down.

What makes symptoms worse?

Some factors can make your symptoms worse, including food and lifestyle choices.

Acid reflux triggers

Spicy foods


Fatty foods









acidic foods

Acidic foods


Fizzy drinks


Being overweight

How long do acid reflux symptoms last?

For most people, symptoms can last for a few minutes up to a few hours. Symptoms should ease by themselves once your food has been digested or you have stood up.

If you have a condition that is causing reflux, symptoms may occur chronically. Bouts may last longer and your symptoms may be more frequent.

What are GORD symptoms?

Gastro-oesophageal reflux disease (GORD), sometimes spelt GERD, is a more severe form of acid reflux. The symptoms are more frequent and tend to be worse.

GORD is also more likely to cause serious complications, such as:

  • lung problems (from acid reflux in the lungs) such as asthma symptoms
  • pain and inflammation in the oesophagus
  • difficulty swallowing
  • ulcers in the oesophagus
  • tooth decay
  • nausea, vomiting and stomach discomfort
  • Barrett’s oesophagus - abnormal cells developing in the oesophagus

GORD can lead to oesophageal cancer. However, this is rare and only affects around 3-13% of people with Barrett’s oesophagus.

How do I treat acid reflux symptoms?

You can treat mild acid reflux symptoms with lifestyle changes such as changing your eating habits, weight loss and quitting smoking. Your pharmacist can also recommend over-the-counter medications like antacids for quick symptom relief.

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For more severe acid reflux cases, your doctor may prescribe you a type of prescription medication called PPIs (proton pump inhibitors). They work by directly reducing stomach acid production.

When should I see a doctor?

There are a few telltale signs that you should see your GP about your symptoms.

See your GP if:

  • your symptoms do not improve with lifestyle changes or treatment
  • you experience symptoms most days, for 3 weeks or more
  • you have other symptoms, including throwing up, getting food stuck in your throat and/or losing weight for no reason

While your symptoms may not mean you have something serious, your doctor will want to rule out any serious causes.

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