Have you ever eaten a slice of pepperoni pizza and paid for it with that burning feeling in your belly and/or chest?
That could be heartburn!
What is heartburn?
Heartburn is a very common occurrence with more than 60 million Americans experiencing it at least once a month.
To understand what causes heartburn, let’s trace the path of that pepperoni pizza. Once you swallow a bite, it travels down the esophagus to the stomach. A valve-like ring of muscle called the lower esophageal sphincter opens to let the food in. The sphincter is then supposed to close to prevent stomach acids from sliding up into the esophagus. In some cases, the sphincter between the stomach and esophagus doesn’t work as well as it should. This allows acid to seep into the esophagus (called acid reflux), where it can cause pain and irritation.
Is it GERD?
Heartburn normally does not pose a serious threat to your health. However, complications can occur with severe, frequent, and persistent acid reflux. If you have severe heartburn or heartburn two or more times a week, you may have a condition called GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease). Without treatment, chronic GERD can cause inflammation, ulcers, and scarring. GERD can also lead to changes in the cells lining the esophagus, known as Barrett’s esophagus. These changes raise the risk of esophageal cancer.
How do we manage Heartburn?
You may be able to manage mild heartburn with a few changes to your daily routine:
- Eat smaller meals
- Finish eating 3 hours before bed
- Avoid spicy food, tomatoes, onions, garlic, fatty food, and citrus foods if you notice heartburn occurring after consuming
- Avoid coffee, tea, soda, and alcohol if you notice heartburn after consuming
- Increase daily walking
- Sleep with your head elevated
For infrequent heartburn, you can try over-the-counter antacids. These chewable tablets neutralize stomach acid causing relief. If heartburn is more frequent, H2 blockers work differently than antacids. Rather than neutralizing acids after they appear, these medications lower the production of stomach acid. This can help prevent heartburn from acid reflux if taken about 30 minutes before meals.
When heartburn is more frequent and severe, schedule an appointment to see your Gastroenterologist. Your doctor can evaluate your symptoms and choose the appropriate testing and treatment for you.
If you have questions about heartburn or GERD, Hunterdon Gastroenterology Associates is here to help! Call us today!