Do you often feel a burning sensation in your chest after a heavy meal? Or perhaps, you notice this burning sensation only after eating certain foods such as spicy peppers or garlic.
Chronic heartburn could be a sign of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), in which the stomach acid backs up into the esophagus.
The esophagus remains closed during digestion, thanks to the help of a circular muscle that’s meant to prevent stomach acid from rising up into it. However, in patients with GERD, this muscle is weakened.
Frequent heartburn can be quite upsetting, especially if you’ve already tried everything to prevent it. Aside from causing discomfort, chronic heartburn can cause damage to your esophagus and raise your risk for a number of conditions.
Below, we asked our experts at Carolina Digestive Health Associates to explain why you shouldn’t ignore chronic heartburn and what you can do about it.
Many people experience heartburn from time to time. Food triggers, tight clothing, smoking, anxiety, pregnancy, and some over-the-counter painkillers can cause heartburn. Being overweight or obese is also a risk factor.
Researchers aren’t certain about what causes heartburn, but almost everyone has a few triggers. Keeping a food journal, along with how you feel after eating certain foods, may help.
Many patients also benefit from eating smaller meals and avoiding meals right before going to bed.
Aside from causing a burning sensation, stomach acid can lead to bad breath, tooth decay, nausea, and trouble breathing.
If stomach acid rises up enough, it can also cause inflammation in the esophagus, which causes more heartburn and the feeling of a sore throat. If the inflammation worsens, it can lead to the development of ulcers in the esophagus, and it can even raise your risk for cancer.
Stomach acid that goes all the way up to your mouth can be inhaled by your lungs, raising your risk for aspiration pneumonia, a serious condition that can cause chest pain, difficulty breathing, coughing, fever, and even death if left untreated.
Treatment plans are often customized based on triggers and lifestyle. If your weight gain is contributing to heartburn, you’ll be advised on how to lose weight. If certain foods trigger your symptoms, eliminating those foods may help.
Aside from suggesting lifestyle modifications, our experts may also prescribe antacids or medications that improve the function of the muscle that prevents the acid from climbing up into the esophagus.
Heartburn isn’t just unpleasant. With time, stomach acid can cause a lot of damage to your esophagus, and it can even be inhaled by your lungs. Get peace of mind and eliminate your discomfort by contacting us to schedule an appointment with one of our experts.