Mechanisms of heartburn

Nat Clin Pract Gastroenterol Hepatol. 2008 Jul;5(7):383-92. doi: 10.1038/ncpgasthep1160. Epub 2008 Jun 10.


Heartburn is a typical symptom of GERD. The spectrum of diseases associated with GERD includes reflux esophagitis, Barrett's esophagus and nonerosive reflux disease (NERD). Although acid reflux is the classic cause of heartburn in patients with erosive esophagitis, the relationship between acid and heartburn is far from clear, especially in patients with NERD. Strong evidence exists that weakly acidic reflux and/or non-acid-related events have a significant role in the generation of heartburn. In addition to the role of nonacidic refluxate components, activation of mechanoreceptors and chemoreceptors, and a possible role for central and peripheral sensitization, has been described. Although patients with erosive esophagitis respond well to acid-suppressive therapy, the same does not hold true for those with NERD. NERD represents a major clinical problem, and its management remains a challenge. Discussion of NERD focuses on the mechanisms that cause chest pain in this subgroup of patients. Improved understanding of the pathogenesis underlying heartburn in patients with GERD, in particular those with NERD, will shape our understanding of this condition. Such understanding will serve as a platform for further research and allow additional therapies to be developed for this increasingly encountered clinical condition.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Bile Reflux / complications*
  • Gastroesophageal Reflux / complications*
  • Heartburn / etiology*
  • Heartburn / physiopathology*
  • Humans