Most people have experienced heartburn at one time or another. Heartburn, also commonly referred to as acid reflux, is characterized by a burning sensation in the chest or a sour taste in the back of their throat. In fact, over 60 million Americans get heartburn at least once a month according to The American College of Gastroenterology. And of those people, about one third experience incidents of heartburn on a daily basis. But, is it really just heartburn?
Heartburn occurs when too much stomach acid moves into the esophagus. This can happen when the muscular valve at the bottom of the esophagus is not working properly. The valve opens too frequently, allowing acid to move out of the stomach and into the food pipe. Although heartburn is common from time to time, frequent acid reflux can lead to the lining of the esophagus becoming irritated and inflamed.
If you find yourself experiencing occasional acid reflux you made be able to combat the problem by making some simple lifestyle changes and utilizing over-the-counter medications. The following tips can help you avoid heartburn:
Tip #1: Eliminate any foods or drinks that trigger your acid reflux. Common triggers include chocolate, coffee, alcohol, tobacco, peppermint, citrus fruits, garlic, onion, fried or spicy foods, and tomato products.
Tip #2: Maintain a healthy weight and eat smaller meals.
Tip #3: Do not lay down for at least two hours after eating.
Tip #4: Raise the head of your bed 6 to 8 inches.
However, frequent bouts of acid reflux may actually be Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD). The disease is commonly associated with chronic acid reflux and can damage the lining of the esophagus. The damage to the esophageal lining is due to repeated occurrences of irritation and inflammation. Besides heartburn, typical symptoms include sour or bitter taste in the mouth, regurgitation of food or sour liquid, burning sensation in the throat, dry cough, wheezing, difficulty swallowing, sore throat and chest pain.
While heartburn may seem harmless, GERD is not. GERD can lead to narrowing of the esophagus, ulcerations, bleeding and severe chest pain. Ten percent of people who suffer from chronic GERD will get a pre-cancerous condition called Barrett’s esophagus. This condition increases the risk of getting esophageal cancer by 30%.
If you are waking up several times a week with acid reflux or if you find yourself buying over-the-counter heartburn medications in industrial quantities, this is a huge red flag that you need to talk to your doctor. Frequent heartburn may not be uncommon, but it does indicate there may be a serious health problem and should not be ignored.