Heartburn Is Not Harmless

October 23, 2018 3:26 am84 commentsViews: 61

Nearly everyone has had heartburn once in a while, usually after eating too much spicy food. But people who suffer from it twice a week or more may have GERD, or gastroesophageal reflux disease.

What Causes GERD?

Most people think that heartburn is caused by too much stomach acid. Actually, this isn’t true. The problem is in the sphincter between the stomach and the esophagus. Acid reflux happens when this sphincter fails to keep the stomach contents in the stomach, where they belong. When stomach acid moves up into the esophagus, it burns the lining of the esophagus.

Why does it burn the esophagus and not the stomach? Because the stomach is made to withstand a high acid content. The stomach and intestines both produce mucus, which protects them from digestive acids. The esophagus doesn’t have this kind of protection, so stomach acid can damage the esophagus.

What Are The Symptoms Of Acid Reflux Disease?

GERD symptoms include:

heartburn twice a week or more
excessive salivation
a sour or bitter taste in the mouth
difficult or painful swallowing
hoarseness, laryngitis, wheezing, or coughing
pnuemonia or asthma
gum disease and bad breath
earache

Any woman in her forties who is experiencing heartburn that doesn’t respond to antacids or other treatments may actually have heart disease.

Who Is At Risk For GERD?

There doesn’t seem to be any reason why acid reflux happens to some people. Risk factors do include obesity, smoking, and drinking alcohol. Pregnant women are often afflicted with heartburn, due to pressure on the stomach as the baby grows. Thankfully, this usually goes away after the baby is born.

Sometimes people over 50 have problems with GERD due to the sphincter weakening as a person ages. Hiatal hernia may also be a factor in heartburn.

How Is GERD Treated?

The easiest way to treat acid reflux disease is by making lifestyle changes. Stop smoking and lose those extra pounds. Eat four to six smaller meals a day to avoid putting pressure on the sphincter between the stomach and esophagus.

If possible, hold off on exercising for three hours after eating. Don’t wear tight clothing. Raising the head of the bed six to nine inches can help prevent heartburn at night.

Avoid fried foods, caffeine, and alcohol, along with spicy foods and soda. Eating papaya may help to improve digestion.

Stress may also be a factor. It may be a good idea to keep a “stress diary” to see if there is a connection between heartburn episodes and stressful situations.

The next step is to see the doctor. He or she may want to prescribe medications to reduce stomach acid, including Nexium or Prilosec. Surgery may be the last resort if all else fails.

What Medical Conditions Can Be Caused By GERD?

If the esophagus is irritated over a long period of time, it can become narrowed. This is called an esophageal stricture, and it can cause difficulty in swallowing.

Sometimes the irritation can lead to changes in the cells lining the esophagus. This condition is known as Barrett’s esophagus. Over a period of time, these cells can become precancerous.

People with Barrett’s esophagus are at a much higher risk of developing esophageal cancer. It’s essential to have your doctor examine your esophagus regularly if you have this condition.

Heartburn can often be controlled by making changes in lifestyle and diet. Prescription drugs or surgery may be necessary to prevent irritation to the esophagus that may lead to esophageal cancer.

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