10 Things You Should Know About Heartburn
Heartburn is a serious condition, and living with it takes a toll on you. But staying informed about what causes it, how to treat it and when it may be more than just indigestion can be helpful when it comes to managing discomfort.
1. Heartburn isn’t the only symptom. That uncomfortable burning sensation in your chest is the most common sign of acid reflux, but some people don’t experience it. Instead, they may have trouble swallowing or even cough up blood. Acid reflux happens when your sphincter muscle (which connects the esophagus to the stomach) relaxes at the wrong time and stays open too long (it normally only opens for a few seconds when you swallow), allowing stomach acid to flow back up into the esophagus, explains Lauren Gerson, MD, associate professor of medicine and gastroenterology at Stanford University.
2. Antacids may not be enough. For occasional heartburn, antacids like Maalox or Tums work well. But if you’re experiencing symptoms at least twice a week, or if it’s so bad that it’s interfering with your daily life (it’s keeping you up at night, for example), see your doctor. You might be one of the 10 percent of Americans who have chronic acid reflux, which is known as GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease). This condition needs to be treated by cutting off acid at the source, and drugs like Prilosec and Nexium can help by turning off the acid pumps in the stomach. Many of these meds are now available over the counter, but talk to your doc first to confirm your diagnosis. She may also suggest a higher, prescription-only dose.
3. Ignoring it is dangerous. Left untreated, chronic acid reflux can increase your risk of developing an esophageal infection, ulcers, scarring of the esophagus, and even a precancerous condition called Barrett’s esophagus, says Julia LeBlanc, MD, associate professor of medicine and gastroenterology at Indiana University.
7 more things you should know about heart burn!
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Do you suffer from heart burn? Do you have anything else to add to this list?
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