Acid reflux or GERD can cause chest tightness, but how does this compare to that caused by a heart attack or angina?

“GERD is a disease where the esophagus is exposed to abnormal amounts of acid which is not designed to tolerate,” explains Jay Desai, MD.

Dr. Desai specializes in colon cancer screening, upper endoscopy and consultative gastroenterology with the Endoscopy Center of New York.

“The most common symptom is a burning sensation in the chest, which can also manifest as a tightening sensation.”

This sensation of tightness in the chest would, understandably, be quite frightening to anyone who knows that “tightness in the chest” is typically listed as a symptom of heart trouble, particularly that of a heart attack.

Dr. Desai continues, “It is important to note that this is just a symptom; the chest does not actually physically tighten.

“GERD symptoms can be confused with a cardiovascular event. Patients who are at risk for cardiovascular disease, i.e., people over age 50, tobacco smokers and those with family history of heart disease, should be evaluated for heart disease if they have these symptoms.

“If cardiovascular disease is ruled out, a trial of antacid medication should be initiated to see if it improves symptoms.”

GERD can also occur overnight or even shortly after going to bed.

What works for many people is that of elevating the upper body with a wedge pillow (one style shown above), to help keep the stomach acids from creeping up the esophagus.

This particular pillow can be found at and, as you can see, provides a little portal through which you can slip an arm during side sleeping.

dr. desai

Board certified in internal medicine and gastroenterology, Dr. Desai provides a wide range of GI services including for bacterial overgrowth, constipation, acid reflux and GERD, IBS, incontinence and small bowel disease. Twitter handle: @NYGADocs
Lorra Garrick has been covering medical, fitness and cybersecurity topics for many years, having written thousands of articles for print magazines and websites, including as a ghostwriter. She’s also a former ACE-certified personal trainer.  


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