Do you often get a burning sensation in your chest? You’re probably thinking it's heartburn, you’re probably right. “Heartburn is the symptom of acid reflux, or stomach contents coming back up the esophagus.
You can quite often locate the reason for this burn... (that meal with all the heavy sauce, perhaps?), but if heartburn happens often (a couple of times a week) it could be a symptom of a condition called gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) which is more serious.
While it may seem that GERD is just a fancy name for heartburn, they are slightly different.
What causes heartburn?
As we swallow our food, it makes its way down the esophagus and into the stomach, where a ring of muscle (the lower esophageal sphincter / LES), closes to keep the food inside.
Sometimes the LES can become weak and doesn’t properly close, allowing stomach acid to flow back up, which irritates the lining of the esophagus. This is heartburn or acid reflux.
Symptoms of heartburn and how to fix them
A burning sensation in your chest that can last several minutes to an hour or two.
A feeling that your food is “stuck” in your throat or the middle of your chest.
A bitter / acidic taste in the back of your throat.
A feeling of chest discomfort that gets worse as you bend over or lie down.
You can avoid these symptoms of heartburn by changing some lifestyle factors before any medication is to be considered:
Avoid foods that are known to trigger acid reflux for you. Acidic, spicy and fried fatty foods are likely to trigger reflux. So can alcohol and caffeine.
Staying upright after eating is essential for optimising your digestion.
Try to avoid eating in the hours leading up to bedtime.
Obesity is one of the main causes of weakening of the lower esophageal sphincter, therefore if you're considered overweight you could increase physical activity to promote weight loss.
What Is GERD?
It is suggested that GERD is acid reflux which occurs two or more times per week.
However, this does not mean that a person who has occasional heartburn will necessarily progress to having GERD. But the symptoms are similar acid reflux (the chest burning sensation and the feeling that your stomach contents are in your throat).
Properly diagnosing GERD can be done by a doctor (or gastroenterologist) by simply evaluating symptom severity and frequency.
Treatment for GERD starts with lifestyle modifications, but if the condition goes untreated, it can lead to more serious issues such as esophagitis (inflammation in the esophagus which can cause issues with swallowing).
GERD is most common with:
- People older than age 50
- Consistent Smokers
- White males
- People who are obese/overweight
In conclusion: If you’re experiencing heartburn at an increased frequency, talk to your doctor about trying to discover the underlying issue. If you adapt to treating GERD with lifestyle changes or the right medication, you can avoid more serious issues in future.