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Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is an often chronic malfunction of the muscle between your esophagus and your stomach. This circular muscle, called the lower esophageal sphincter (LES), acts like a valve and sometimes opens when it should not or fails to close when it should, allowing stomach acid and other stomach contents to leak back into the esophagus. The esophagus is the tube that carries food to your stomach. Heartburn, also known as acid indigestion, is a painful, burning sensation in your chest behind your breastbone that occurs when stomach acid or other stomach contents leak back into the esophagus. Despite its name, heartburn actually has nothing to do with the heart. Frequent heartburn is a common symptom of GERD, but you can have occasional heartburn without having GERD.