What is Heartburn?
Heartburn is a burning sensation felt in the chest due to reflux. The American College Gastroenterology describes heartburn as a digestive issue where acid from the stomach flows backward up into the esophagus, which is known as acid reflux. When excessive amounts of stomach acid flow into your esophagus you will most likely experience heartburn symptoms. Occasional heartburn is very common and is experienced at some point by almost everyone. However, frequent heartburn (2 or more times per week) may be associated with a more severe issue called gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).
GERD is a digestive disorder that affects the ring of muscle between the esophagus and stomach (esophageal sphincter), which leads to an abnormal amount of reflux. While GERD and heartburn are closely related they are not the same thing. Heartburn is a possible symptom of GERD and GERD is a disorder causing excessive amounts of reflux into the stomach.
What Causes Heartburn?
Your lower esophageal sphincter acts as the valve between your stomach and esophagus. When this valve is not opening and closing properly, stomach acid is allowed to flow back into the esophagus. Since the esophagus does not have the same lining as the stomach the acid can irritate the tissues on the wall of the esophagus. When this irritation occurs it causes heartburn.
What are the Common Symptoms of Acid Reflux?
In addition to heartburn other symptoms of reflux include:
- Burning feeling in the chest
- Burning feeling in the throat
- Chronic cough
- Difficulty swallowing
- Sour taste in the mouth
- Constant hiccups
When do I need to see a Doctor for Acid Reflux?
Persistent heartburn can lead to damage in the esophagus causing increased pain, GI bleeding, and even a condition that can increase the risk for esophageal cancer called Barrett’s esophagus in which the cells lining the esophagus change. If acid reflux symptoms become frequent or severe, you should see a gastroenterologist who can treat the condition and determine if an upper endoscopy or EGD is necessary to further evaluate the symptoms.
How do I get Relief from Heartburn?
Lifestyle and diet modifications are the best initial step in improving heartburn related symptoms in Plano, TX. People with acid reflux symptoms should:
- Eat smaller more frequent meals (avoid overeating)
- Stop eating at least three hours prior to going to bed
- Elevate the head of their bed 4 to 6 inches
- Lose weight (if overweight)
- Stop smoking
- Avoid tomato based products, citrus products (e.g. orange juice, lemonade, limeade, etc), chocolate, fried fatty foods, carbonated beverages, alcohol, and coffee.
Infrequent symptoms can often be treated with over the counter agents like Zantac or Pepcid when the symptoms arise. Sometimes a stronger class of drugs called proton pump inhibitors such as Prilosec OTC, Nexium OTC, Prevacid may be needed. However, if symptoms persist despite the use of these agents or anyone who has been on acid reducing medications for a prolonged period of time should see Dr. Malik to determine if further evaluation is necessary.