What is acid reflux, heartburn, and GERD?
Heartburn is a burning feeling in your chest or throat. Despite its name, heartburn actually has nothing to do with your heart.
Heartburn is a symptom of many different conditions, including acid reflux and GERD. It typically feels like a burning in the center of your chest, behind your breastbone. Heartburn can last anywhere from a few minutes to a few hours. It’s often treated at home with over-the-counter medications.
Heartburn is a very common problem – most people have experienced this at some time in their life. It tends to happen after eating, when you’re lying down, or at night. And for many, it is a weekly or even daily occurrence.
Having heartburn regularly is problematic due to the long-term effects. It’s ok to suffer from heartburn once in a while, but if it has become a part of your life, it’s time to do something about it before it causes problems.
What is heartburn?
Acid reflux happens when the lower esophageal sphincter (LES), the valve that connects your esophagus to your stomach, relaxes and allows stomach acid to leak into the esophagus. It causes that familiar burning sensation and chest pain known as heartburn.
Acid reflux that occurs more than twice a week can cause damage to your esophagus and needs to be treated with a doctor’s help. When acid reflux causes damage to the esophagus, it becomes gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).
Over time, unmanaged GERD can cause changes to the lining of the esophagus making it red and thickened. This is called Barrett’s esophagus.
Barrett’s esophagus increases your risk for esophageal cancer. Not everyone with GERD will develop Barrett’s esophagus, and people with Barret’s may not develop cancer. Managing your acid reflux can lower your chances of both.
What are the symptoms of heartburn / acid reflux / GERD?
The main symptom of heartburn is the sensation of burning in your chest that might last for a few minutes or as long as a few hours. It usually happens after eating and can be worse at night.
Other possible symptoms include:
- Chest pain that feels similar to angina or heart pain
- With jaw or arm pain or shortness of breath. These could be signs of a heart attack
- Trouble swallowing or pain when swallowing
- Regurgitation of food or sour liquid
- Sleep disruption
What are the risk factors for frequent heartburn?
Certain conditions and lifestyle factors may make you more likely to have frequent heartburn, like:
- Hiatal hernia
- Delayed stomach emptying
- Connective tissue disorders
- Eating large or fatty meals
- Eating late at night
- Eating trigger foods
- Drinking alcohol, carbonated drinks, or coffee
- Certain medications
Heartburn Self-Help Remedies You Should Know About
If you suffer from heartburn, you know it’s a sharp tightening, burning sensation that may seem to move up to the throat, and you’ll want to get rid of it fast.
Try these self-help remedies to ease the effects of heartburn.
- Avoid food and drinks known to cause heartburn, like chocolate, caffeine, and fried
- Eat smaller meals, slowly
- Eat more fiber
- Don’t lie down after eating – wait 2-3 hours
- Don’t eat 3-4 hours before bed
- If you have nighttime heartburn, raise the head of your bed
- Maintain a healthy weight
- Avoid tight-fitting clothes
- Don’t smoke
When should I visit emergency room about heartburn?
Occasional heartburn can usually be treated with over-the-counter medications, but when it’s frequent, severe, or affecting your health, it’s vital to visit the closest emergency room immediately. Leaving frequent heartburn untreated can lead to more serious health conditions. Talk to your ER doctor if you have any of the following:
- Frequent symptoms
- Severe symptoms
- Difficulty swallowing
- Nausea or vomiting
- Weight loss because of difficulty eating