Heartburn is a very common discomfort that most people will experience at some point. But what if it won’t go away? At what point does heartburn become a cause for concern?
How To Identify Heartburn
Heartburn has nothing to do with your heart. It’s a condition that occurs in the esophagus when a small amount of stomach acid escapes your stomach and sits in your lower esophagus. The acids create an uncomfortable burning sensation that, because of its location near the heart, has been given the name “heartburn.”
Mild heartburn can pop up on occasion for a variety of reasons, but sometimes it can hinder your regular daily activity. If it gets that intense, or it seems like it won’t go away or is consistent over many days, it is important to have it checked.
What Happens If You Have Frequent Heartburn?
The esophagus is prone to several conditions and disorders. Sometimes considered “frequent” heartburn, Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) occurs when the valve in the esophagus doesn’t work properly. GERD can also cause acid regurgitation when the acid from the stomach comes up through the esophagus and sometimes into the mouth.
A few potential concerns that can result from untreated GERD or frequent heartburn are Barrett’s Esophagus and potentially a type of cancer called adenocarcinoma. Barrett’s esophagus occurs when the esophageal lining changes, becoming more like the tissue that lines the intestines. Your doctor will test for Barrett’s esophagus with an upper endoscopy and may order additional tests as needed. This assessment is very important because undetected and untreated Barrett’s esophagus can lead to esophageal cancer.
Although rare, Adenocarcinoma is increasing in frequency, making it more important than ever to have heartburn symptoms checked out. Experts aren’t sure exactly what is causing the increase in adenocarcinoma cases, and the increase has been seen mostly in white males, with the average patient being 67 years of age.
How Can I Decrease My Heartburn?
Often, GERD symptoms occur because of diet or obesity. Eliminating carbonated beverages, caffeine, and fatty or spicy foods can help reduce the frequency of heartburn. Losing weight may also help. Some people may find relief with over-the-counter antacids, although they should not be considered a long-term solution. Anyone with persistent heartburn needs to have their condition diagnosed.
Some common causes of heartburn include:
- Types of food/Diet
- Snacking near bedtime
- Regular use of blood pressure medications, particularly those used for blood pressure, certain muscle relaxers, or pain relief
- Frequently drinking carbonated beverages, coffee, tea, or alcohol
Avoiding these can help reduce your symptoms or frequency of heartburn. If you’re experiencing frequent or debilitating heartburn that has begun to affect your daily life, don’t mistake it as “normal.” Make an appointment with GI Associates today!