Heartburn affects the majority of people at one time or another, but if you don’t suffer from it regularly you may have wondered, ‘What does heartburn feel like?’ Perhaps you are uncertain whether the pain or discomfort you sometimes experience is, in fact, heartburn, or something else. Since any kind of recurring pain could be a symptom of a significant condition or problem, this is an important question to ask.

First of all, heartburn is a burning sensation, but it is not really in or near the heart. The discomfort is usually caused by the backflow of stomach acid into the esophagus, which is what gives it a burning sensation. It has been described as feeling like a fire has been lit in the pit of your stomach. This burning may be like a small candle, or it could feel like a raging forest fire.

The pain of heartburn is typically located somewhere between the abdomen and the throat. Most frequently it is in the lower chest, just behind the breastbone. It can occur both higher and lower than that, however. It usually comes on shortly after, but sometimes during, eating. The pain may last a few minutes or several hours.

Some people experience the burning all the way up into the throat. If this happens it is frequently accompanied by a taste of bile – hot, sour, acidic or even salty. The person may also find it difficult to swallow, or they may have a temporary cough.

Sometimes, severe heartburn symptoms resemble the symptoms of a heart attack. When in doubt always err on the side of going to the emergency room! A few ways you can determine that the pain is, in fact, caused by heartburn, however are:

  • The pain quickly subsides when taking antacids
  • The pain stays in the esophageal column between the throat and the abdomen, not radiating outwards to the shoulders, neck or arms. Though in extreme cases of heartburn this can happen, it is rare.
  • The pain is easy to connect with recent food consumption
  • Rarely is there a cold sweat associated with heartburn.

Once you have experienced heartburn you will not likely forget it. It is good to learn the symptoms and think about how to describe it, especially if you have or work with children. By knowing exactly what heartburn feels like you will be able to help them to understand why their tummy hurts and help them to get relief.