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How can I tell if I have GERD or a stomach ulcer?

Many patients with gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) will experience heartburn, while those with a stomach ulcer may notice a constant burning, gnawing, or aching pain in the upper left or upper central portion of the abdomen. Heartburn is most often described as a burning feeling behind the breastbone which can extend up through the chest to the throat or neck. This is caused by contents from the stomach flowing backward into the esophagus. Stomach ulcer pain may worsen after eating while an ulcer in the duodenum, the first part of the small bowel after the stomach, may improve after eating.
William B. Salt II., MD
Gastroenterology

The main symptoms of GERD are heartburn and regurgitation, while the symptom of ulcer is upper abdominal discomfort or pain.

"GERD" stands for Gastro Esophageal Reflux Disease. There is a valve located where the esophagus joins with the stomach (Lower Esophageal Sphincter, or LES). Weakness of this valve allows stomach content, including acid and food to return (reflux) back into the esophagus. The main symptoms of GERD are heartburn (a burning, rising discomfort in the center of the chest under the breastbone) and regurgitation, a return of juice and food back into the esophagus and into the throat.

Ulcer discomfort and pain is located in the upper abdomen, usually in the middle above the belly button (umbilicus). This location is called the epigastric area, or epigastrium.

Some people with GERD and heartburn also have a burning distress located in the epigastrium. 

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.