Heartburn is a symptom of acid reflux, in which stomach acid backs up into the esophagus, which can be very painful. Heartburn is a very common condition that affects nearly 60 million Americans per year. While 15 million suffer from daily symptoms of heartburn, others may experience no symptoms at all, making the disorder difficult to manage.
Surprise symptoms of heartburn include:
- A dry or chronic cough
- Sore throat, laryngitis, hoarse voice or frequent throat clearing
- Asthma that is worse after meals, when lying down or with exercise
- Burning in the middle of the chest or chest pain (similar to a heart attack)
- Frequent belching or burping
- Nausea and vomiting
What can you do?
- Talk to your doctor! Though heartburn is not a cardiac issue, it can feel like chest pain that can accompany a heart attack.
- Change your diet. Foods such as tomatoes, garlic, onions, citrus, peppermint, chocolate, alcohol and caffeine are known to make acid reflux worse. While it can be difficult to eliminate those foods from your diet completely, limit your intake.
- Lose weight, especially if you’re overweight or have recently gained weight.
- Elevate the head of your bed with risers or use a wedge pillow.
In order to know whether acid reflux needs to be evaluated or managed further, medical professionals often ask about the duration (length of time), frequency (number of times) or severity (pain level) of symptoms. In people who experience acid reflux on a regular basis, mild or intermittent acid reflux is described as symptoms of heartburn or indigestion occurring fewer than two times per week. In those patients, we usually recommend dietary or lifestyle changes, along with medication to be taken only when symptoms occur.
Other patients experience symptoms more frequently – more than two episodes per week. For them, we start a stronger medication that is usually taken once daily for eight weeks in addition to dietary and lifestyle changes. Once the medicine has been taken for about two months, we try to decrease it to see if the symptoms continue to be bothersome. If symptoms persist, a gastroenterologist may perform an upper endoscopy (EGD) to evaluate the esophagus, stomach and small intestine for irritation or damage. Once an EGD is completed, further recommendations can be made to manage acid reflux.
Acid reflux can be distressing for patients and difficult to manage for providers. If you have any concerns regarding your symptoms and whether they could be related to reflux or something else, it is always a good idea to talk with your primary care doctor or your friendly local gastroenterologist!
Ready to find a solution to your acid reflux? Find a Tryon location near you.