Have a burning question about heartburn? The most common concerns are addressed here.
Although heartburn is an extremely common condition, affecting at least 60 million Americans at least once a month, its symptoms and causes are so varied that patients may not understand when or why it's happening to them. Here, Dr. Vikram Jayanty addresses a few of the questions he frequently hears about heartburn:
Why am I getting heartburn?
Heartburn can happen for a variety of reasons and can occur at any age. Sometimes it's due to a sensitivity to certain foods or medications. Part of your digestive system may not be functioning properly (see below). It's estimated that 80% of women will experience heartburn during pregnancy.
What's the difference between acid reflux, GERD, and heartburn?
You may have heard the terms heartburn, acid reflux, and GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease) being used, in the same way. Although they are related, they are separate conditions.
Heartburn is described as an uncomfortable burning or tightening sensation in the chest. It usually happens after eating a meal, but it can also occur as a side effect of anti-depressants, pain relievers, and other medications. The heart is not actually affected during these bouts; the problem originates in the esophagus. Heartburn is not actually a disease or illness; it is simply a symptom of acid reflux or GERD.
Acid reflux is a malfunction of a muscle in between the stomach and the esophagus. It causes the acidic contents of the stomach to move backward into the esophagus, creating that sensation known as heartburn. If acid reflux occurs chronically (more than twice a week), it is categorized as GERD.
How can I treat my heartburn?
If your heartburn occurs occasionally, you may be able to keep it at bay by avoiding "trigger" foods - caffeinated beverages, alcohol, spicy foods, and foods containing a high amount of acid such as citrus fruits or tomatoes. Avoiding lying down immediately after eating or taking medications may also help. Infrequent heartburn can be effectively treated with over-the-counter antacids that neutralize stomach acid. However, if heartburn happens more often, you may need medication to slow the production of those acids. Quitting smoking or losing weight can also reduce the incidence of heartburn.
If your heartburn is causing you discomfort, don't hesitate to call your Houston gastroenterologist to discuss treatment.