Heartburn is a common gastrointestinal condition that feels like burning in the chest. Although occasional heartburn is not usually a cause for concern, frequent episodes may be a sign of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) – which, if left untreated, can lead to serious medical complications.
The sensation of heartburn is caused by stomach acid traveling up the esophagus and toward the throat, and this is known as acid reflux. Acid reflux is a common digestive condition which affects around 20% of the U.S. population on a regular basis.
What Are the Signs of Heartburn?
Heartburn can cause a number of symptoms, such as:
- A burning pain in the chest that often occurs after eating and which may also occur at night
- Chest-area pain that gets worse when bending over or lying down
- Sour or bitter taste in your mouth (which is due to the upflow of stomach acids)
It may occur along with other symptoms of acid reflux, which include:
- Bad breath
- Hoarseness or laryngitis
- Sore throat
- Dry cough
- Sensation of a lump in your throat
- Erosion of tooth enamel from the stomach acids
Heartburn vs. GERD
You may be diagnosed with gastroesophageal reflux disease if you experience symptoms of heartburn more than twice a week. GERD is a chronic type of acid reflux, and some people with advanced GERD may experience internal bleeding or difficulty swallowing.
GERD can often be prevented and treated successfully. If it is left unaddressed by a doctor, it can lead to serious medical complications such as esophagitis – inflammation of the esophagus – which can affect the structures in the esophagus, throat, voice box, nasal airways, and lungs. This can create respiratory problems and Barrett’s esophagus, which is when the lining of the esophagus is damaged by repeated exposure to stomach acid via acid reflux.
When to See a Doctor
Heartburn, along with other symptoms of acid reflux, can affect people at varying degrees. If you regularly suffer with one or more of the following symptoms, you should visit your gastroenterologist as it may be a sign of GERD:
- Frequent heartburn (occurs more than twice a week)
- Symptoms continue despite the use of over-the-counter medications
- Difficulty swallowing
- Persistent nausea or vomiting
- Weight loss associated with poor appetite or eating difficulties
Whether your GI (gastrointestinal) issues are due to acid reflux, GERD, or something else, this can be diagnosed by reviewing your medical history and symptoms. Tests may also be recommended, such as an endoscopy, barium swallow, esophageal manometry, and/or pH monitoring.
Depending on the severity of your symptoms, your doctor may recommend lifestyle changes, medicine, or a combination of treatments. In severe cases, surgery may be considered if other treatments are unsuccessful.
GI Care in Westlake and Brooklyn, Ohio
If you are in the Greater Cleveland area and you regularly experience symptoms of heartburn, abdominal discomfort, or issues in your throat, consult with one of our board-certified physicians at North Shore Gastroenterology. Our medical specialists know how to properly diagnose and treat your condition so that it does not develop into a more problematic issue in your GI tract.
If you have any questions or would like to schedule an appointment with one of our experienced doctors, call us today at (440) 808-1212 or complete our convenient online form. We look forward to helping you take control of your digestive health.