Millions of Americans experience the irritating pain and discomfort associated with heartburn. When symptoms are minor and occur infrequently, over-the-counter medications are often effective. Recurring heartburn is a different story and is something you should discuss with your provider.
What is heartburn or acid reflux?
Heartburn is a burning sensation in your chest or throat that happens when stomach acid backs up into the esophagus, the tube that connects your mouth and stomach. There is a muscle between the stomach and esophagus that usually prevents acid backup, but if the muscle is weak, acid may go the wrong way. In some instances, heartburn pain is strong enough to be mistaken for a heart attack.
What if I have frequent heartburn?
Heartburn that occurs frequently may be a sign of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). It could also be caused a hiatal hernia. While some people with a hiatal hernia experience no symptoms, it is a common cause of heartburn.
Why managing GERD is important
Beyond heartburn, untreated GERD may cause symptoms such as hoarseness, sore throat, trouble swallowing, dry cough and bad breath. When you have GERD, the cells in the esophagus are regularly irritated by stomach acid. Over time, this may cause the cells that are supposed to line the esophagus to be replaced with cells similar to those that line the small intestine. This condition is called Barrett's esophagus. Once the cells in your esophagus have changed, you are at risk for cancer of esophagus.
Treatment for GERD
For patients whose acid reflux or GERD is not well managed by over-the-counter or prescription antacid medications, minimally invasive surgical procedures are available. The experienced surgeons at Norton KDH are well trained in these procedures. If you have frequent heartburn, talk with your primary care provider about a referral or call the General Surgery team at Norton KDH: (812) 801-0840
Tips for heartburn prevention
While patients with GERD may not be able to control heartburn, below are some tips to help prevent the development of heartburn:
- Quit smoking
- Avoid foods that cause heartburn and avoid overeating
- Lose weight
- Avoid tight clothing
- Wait at least two hours after you eat before you lie down or recline
Most important: Talk to your provider about your nutritional habits, how frequently you experience heartburn and any over-the-county medications or supplements you may be using. Working together, heartburn and GERD are manageable.