How long does acid reflux last?

The length of time an acid reflux episode lasts and how often it occurs can vary. Know when to contact your doctor.


What is acid reflux?

Acid reflux is when there is the backflow of acid from the stomach into the esophagus. This can irritate the esophagus and other areas which gastric acid comes into contact with, such as the throat.  TSymptoms such as heartburn, a hoarse voice and a sour taste in the mouth may result. Stomach acid can escape if the lower esophageal sphincter (LES) is weak, if there is excess acid production, or if there is reduced gastric emptying. Acid reflux can be exacerbated by eating, bending over or lying down.

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How long can one reflux attack last?

Symptoms such as heartburn can last from minutes to several hours. Mild heartburn after eating acidic or spicy food usually goes away when the food has been digested. Symptoms can return some hours after they first appeared if you lie down or bend over. In pregnancy, heartburn may last longer. The severity of the heartburn does not indicate if there is lasting damage or not. Damage usually comes from more chronic, recurring acid reflux.

How often can I get acid reflux? 

Heartburn is a very common condition with around 20% of Americans experiencing heartburn once a week. While occasional heartburn is not dangerous, if heartburn occurs more than twice a week, or if you have to take antacids daily, you should speak to a doctor.   You may have gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), which can cause lasting damage and long-term complications when left untreated.

Something doesn't feel right, should I see my doctor?

Yes, absolutely. This applies to both chronic reflux and emergency situations.

If you suspect you have GERD, please speak to your doctor. Untreated GERD can lead to serious complications including:

  • Laryngitis - May 2 weeks to recover provided irritation by stomach acid is arrested.
  • Esophagitis - With potent acid suppression this can take 2-8 weeks to heal.
  • Ulcers - Can potentially perforate if untreated.
  • Strictures - Chronic inflammation can lead to scar tissue that restricts passage of food.
  • Swallowing problems - This can lead to difficulty eating and drinking, and eventually cause weight loss
  • Pre-cancerous changes to the esophageal lining - These may become cancerous.

If you have symptoms that make you suspect something more serious is going on, you should visit your local emergency department.  Symptoms which may indicate a more serious condition include:

  • Severe heartburn or heartburn that is worse than ususal
  • Chest pain which may have a squeezing or pressure-like quality 
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Pain that radiates to other areas of the upper body
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea
  • Sweating

Additional concerning symptoms include:. 

  • bloody or dark stools 
  • black/ coffee ground like vomit

You should call 911 if you experience dark stools or dark vomit, as this may indicate a bleeding ulcer.


Occasional reflux is unlikely to be a problem and can usually be treated with lifestyle changes or over the counter medications. However, chronic reflux can harm your body and cause serious complications if untreated.  If you have acute or unusually severe symptoms, or a sudden change in your symptoms, seek immediate medical attention as this may indicate a more serious underlying condition.





Reviewed by Dr Roy Kedem, MD

Information last reviewed 07/12/21

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