Heartburn is a common condition that impacts many Americans. Heartburn is typically caused when stomach acid enters the esophagus, causing the burning feeling most people associate with heartburn.
Generally, when you swallow foods and drinks, your lower esophageal sphincter allows food into your stomach, while preventing acid from entering into your esophagus. The lower esophageal sphincter is like a circular muscle which opens and closes to let food in to your stomach. However, if your lower esophageal sphincter is weak or damaged, it will not be able to prevent acid from improperly entering your esophagus.
So what causes heartburn? For many people with average heartburn symptoms, certain foods and drinks are mainly to blame. Foods high in caffeine like coffee and soda, alcoholic drinks, fatty and spicy foods, and other irritating foods can be to blame. For some people, simply reducing or eliminating these foods, and sticking to a healthier diet, is enough to resolve most heartburn issues.
However, some people may experience more severe heartburn. Heartburn that occurs often and disrupts your life heavily is called gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). This condition may be treated with prescription medication. Without treatment, GERD can lead to serious complications and adverse health effects.
If you are feeling severe or persistent heartburn that you can’t control based on your food and liquid intake, you should see a doctor. Your doctor may perform tests like an upper GI X-Ray, an endoscopy, or a pH probe test.
Depending on your diagnosis, your doctor may suggest several different options. Mild heartburn can be controlled with over-the-counter antacid medication like Maalox and Tums. More severe heartburn issues can be controlled with prescription medication that blocks stomach acid production and attempts to heal the esophagus.
The most important issue for you to understand is the severity and causes of heartburn. For minor symptoms, OTC medication and changes in diet may be enough. However, don’t let a heartburn problem go on for too long without treatment. This can lead to more severe damage. If your lifestyle is being negatively impacted by heartburn, contact a doctor as soon as possible.