Heartburn is something that affects everyone at least once in a while. There are varying levels of heartburn, and its seriousness is also noted by how frequently one experiences it. However, most cases of occasional heartburn can be dodged with a few lifestyle changes or precautions, particularly if the episodes are bothersome. Read on to learn more about heartburn, the differences between acid reflux and GERD, and when you should contact your doctor if you’re experiencing more than occasional heartburn.
Acid Reflux and GERD
Acid reflux or heartburn occurs when the lower esophageal sphincter (LES), which is the valve that separates the stomach from the esophagus, remains opens, flutters, or does not close completely. When this happens, bile (stomach acid) finds its way from the stomach into the esophagus, causing a burning sensation known as heartburn.
When someone has occasional heartburn or acid reflux, they likely reach for an antacid or other over-the-counter treatment for quick relief. However, the American College of Gastroenterology defines gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) as heartburn or acid reflux that occurs more than twice a week. While over-the-counter medications may relieve symptoms and certainly have efficacy, doctors warn against the long-term use of over-the-counter medications without a doctor’s supervision. This is because many causes of occasional heartburn can easily be remedied by making a few lifestyle changes or trying some home remedies.
Frequent heartburn may be indicative of more serious problems, so it’s wise to see your doctor if you’re experiencing heartburn more than twice a week.
Keeping a Food Diary and Other Tips
Watching what you eat and drink tops the list when it comes to home remedies, or how to prevent heartburn. Keeping a food diary is a good idea, as it allows you to see what you’ve eaten that may have triggered the heartburn. Common foods and drinks known to exacerbate heartburn include:
- Carbonated beverages
- Citrus fruits and drinks
- Tomato-based fruits and drinks
Doctors advise to curtail these foods or to avoid them altogether if you have more frequent episodes of acid reflux. There are also other things you can attempt to try to avoid bouts of heartburn, such as:
- Quitting smoking
- Not eating right before bed
- Not eating large meals
- Not lying down immediately after eating
- Staying active
- Avoiding spicy foods
- Eating smaller portions
Pregnancy is also a common cause of heartburn; pregnant patients often find that severe heartburn disappears after the baby is born.
When to See a Doctor
Most cases of occasional bouts of heartburn are benign and are caused by one of the problems listed above (smoking, pregnancy, alcohol, spicy foods), but when heartburn becomes more frequent, it’s a good idea to see your physician. Antacids provide fast relief, but should not be the go-to treatment when it comes to heartburn, especially if the diagnosis is GERD.
There are also associated symptoms with heartburn that are important to consider when you see your doctor. Those who suffer from GERD also experience other symptoms, which may include a dry, wheezing cough, regurgitation, nausea or vomiting, weight loss, and bloating. If your frequent heartburn is also comorbid with the above symptoms, a doctor’s visit is definitely warranted. While your doctor may “prescribe” some of the home remedies listed above, they can also give you a more targeted, effective form of treatment than over-the-counter medications. It’s also good to have a checkup to ensure that there is not a more serious problem than GERD, such as Barrett’s esophagus.
If you need more information about acid reflux or GERD or would like to be seen by a physician, request an appointment with Dr. Sameer Islam, MD today. Offering a full range of gastroenterologic care, including weight loss procedures, Dr. Islam proudly cares for the people of West Texas.