Heartburn: What It Is And When To See A Doctor

Most people will experience heartburn at some point in their life. It might occur after eating fried food, consuming something spicy or simply eating too much at once. It is common and usually nothing to worry about. However, it can be a symptom of more serious conditions.

What Is Heartburn?

Heartburn is a burning pain in your chest caused by stomach acid flowing back up into your esophagus, instead of staying in your stomach. This happens when the muscle at the bottom of your esophagus doesn’t close properly. Risk factors for heartburn include smoking and being overweight. Heartburn can be triggered by certain foods and drinks, large meals, and alcoholic beverages.

What Are The Symptoms Of Heartburn?

The main symptom of heartburn is a burning pain felt in the chest. It usually occurs after eating, but it may also happen when bending over or while lying down. You may also experience an acidic taste in your mouth, burning in your throat or difficulty swallowing.

How Is Heartburn Treated?

Lifestyle changes and over-the-counter medications are usually all that are required to manage heartburn. In some cases, heartburn can be a sign of something more serious that may need further treatment.

Lifestyle changes that can help prevent heartburn:

  • Figure out what foods trigger heartburn, and avoid them.
  • Eat small meals, and avoid eating too quickly.
  • Stop eating a few hours before lying down or going to bed.
  • Avoid alcohol, and don’t smoke.
  • Maintain a healthy weight.
  • Elevate the head of your bed.
  • Try wearing loose-fitting clothing around your waist.
  • If exercise triggers heartburn, wait a couple of hours after eating before physical activity.

Over-the-counter medications that work to reduce the amount of stomach acid may help heartburn. These medications include antacids and acid blockers. There are also prescription drugs for those who need stronger medication.

When To See Your Doctor

Occasional heartburn can often be managed with lifestyle changes, and it is usually no cause for concern. When it happens frequently, it can lead to more serious health conditions such as GERD, Barrett’s esophagus and even esophageal cancer. You should make an appointment with your doctor if you experience any of the following symptoms:

  • Heartburn that occurs frequently (three or more times a week), becomes more severe or doesn’t go away
  • Heartburn that is not relieved by over-the-counter medications
  • Difficulty or pain with swallowing
  • Nausea and/or vomiting
  • Unexplained weight loss

The team at GastroIntestinal Specialists, A.M.C., treats multiple conditions and diseases of the GI tract. Our Board-Certified physicians have more than 150 years of combined experience in providing quality care that you can trust. To schedule an appointment, call (318) 631-9121, or click here.