If you’ve just finished a large meal and begin to feel a fire-like sensation creeping up your throat, you might be able to identify the symptoms of heartburn. This condition occurs in over 60 million Americans at least once a month, and an estimated over 15 million experience it daily. In addition to occurring after eating a large meal, it can commonly manifest itself in pregnant women, the elderly, or those who are overweight. Frequent and severe heartburn is often caused by a condition called GERD, or gastroesophageal reflux disease.
What Is GERD?
GERD is a condition of the digestive system that is caused by a backflow of stomach acid through the esophagus. If your body is functioning properly, stomach acid should remain in the stomach where its primary job is to break down your food and aid in digestion. In people who suffer from GERD, the acid actually travels the wrong way through a malfunctioning lower esophageal sphincter. This flow of acid is what causes the burning sensation that is identified as heartburn.
For some, heartburn can be a minor nuisance, but for others, it can drastically affect their daily lives. For those who suffer from time to time or with a minor case of heartburn, simple over the counter antacids may be an easy and appropriate treatment. But if you find yourself experiencing it regularly, it might be time to visit your gastroenterologist.
Are There Long-Term Effects Of Frequent Heartburn?
You’re considered to be a frequent heartburn sufferer if you experience persistent symptoms at least once a month. If it’s sporadic, you may be able to just modify your lifestyle slightly in order to lessen your symptoms.
Frequent heartburn can lead to long-term health issues including developing a disease of the esophageal lining and having a slightly increased chance of developing esophageal cancer. The frequent occurrence of heartburn can actually cause long-term damage called Barrett’s esophagus, which may exacerbate symptoms and make them occur more frequently. Although Barrett’s esophagus doesn’t always present with distinct symptoms, it can cause prolonged or more serious heartburn.
What Is The Best Way To Manage GERD And Heartburn?
Management of your condition will depend on individual cases. For some, an over the counter or prescription medication may stop the uncomfortable symptoms. But if you find yourself using over-the-counter antacids frequently, you need to consult with your doctor to make sure that there is no underlying cause of the frequency of your discomfort. Other remedies may include adjusting your diet and eliminating certain trigger foods like coffee, mint, greasy food, spicy food, acidic foods like tomatoes, and alcohol. Lifestyle choices like losing weight and increasing exercise also help, as well as adjusting portions and mealtimes. If you’re reading this and nodding your head thinking it sounds like what you’re experiencing, it’s time to book an appointment with Associates in Digestive Health. Our team of doctors can get to the root of your heartburn issues and develop a plan to manage your condition.