Most people have experienced heartburn at one time or another. Heartburn is often felt as a burning sensation in the chest, and can be triggered by certain foods and drinks. Heartburn may also be called reflux, gastroesophageal reflux (GER), or acid indigestion. The burning sensation is caused by acid from your stomach that backs up into your esophagus.
Occasional heartburn is usually nothing to worry about. You may find that some lifestyle changes can help reduce or eliminate your heartburn. Some recommendations for relief include:
- Avoiding foods that irritate the esophagus, including citrus fruits, tomato sauce, chocolate, peppermint, coffee, alcohol, and carbonated drinks.
- Eating smaller portions and avoiding overeating at meals.
- Sleeping with your head elevated to keep the acid down.
- Losing excess weight, if needed.
- Quitting smoking.
GERD: More than just heartburn
If you experience regular episodes of heartburn, discuss symptoms with your physician. Heartburn that occurs two times or more per week for several weeks could be a sign of gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD. This is a more serious form of reflux that can cause serious health problems if left untreated. Some of the possible complications of GERD include permanent damage to your esophagus, lung problems such as asthma or pneumonia, or a long-lasting cough.
How do you know if you have GERD?
A physician who specializes in gastrointestinal health can talk to you about your symptoms. There are many different tests available to diagnose GERD that can measure how severe the problem might be. Some tests include:
- An endoscopy, which uses a tiny camera to see down your throat and into your stomach. An endoscopy is done while you are under anesthesia. A biopsy may also be done during the procedure.
- A series of special x-rays, which involve drinking a barium liquid during the test.
- The placement of a special monitor in your throat and stomach that measures any acid that comes up into your esophagus. Known as esophageal pH and impedance monitoring, the tube is typically worn for 24 hours. This is a very reliable test for diagnosing GERD.
- A wireless transmitter in your esophagus. Similar to the esophageal pH test above, this test involves having a small capsule placed in your esophagus that detaches and passes naturally from your body within a few days.
Once your GERD is diagnosed, your physician will work with you on developing a treatment plan. Many medications are available to control GERD and to help avoid future damage to your esophagus. Some medications include:
- Antacids. These are a popular first line of defense for mild symptoms.
- H2 blockers. These work by making your stomach produce less acid. Several brands are available over-the-counter.
- Proton pump inhibitors. These also decrease the amount of acid produced, and may be better for more severe GERD. They are very effective at healing the esophagus.
If medications do not provide adequate relief, your gastroenterologist may discuss surgical options. A procedure called fundoplication involves moving the placement of your stomach in relation to your esophagus, relieving reflux symptoms. Patients who have this procedure often have long-lasting relief from GERD.
With the help of a skilled gastroenterologist, you can manage your GERD symptoms and get back to enjoying the things you love.
CarePoint Health provides patients with care delivered by the area’s best and most dedicated doctors, nurses, hospitals and medical staff, with focus on preventive medicine, health care education, and disease management. To learn more about gastrointestinal health, contact CarePoint Health at 1-877-791-7000 or request an appointment online at our website.
Content on our website is for informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. If you are experiencing a medical emergency, please call 911. Always consult your physician before making any changes to your medical treatment.