How common is heartburn?
More than 60 million Americans experience heartburn at least once a month and some studies have suggested that more than 15 million Americans experience heartburn symptoms each day. Symptoms of heartburn, also known as acid indigestion, are more common among the elderly and pregnant women.
What is heartburn or GERD?
Gastroesophageal reflux is a physical condition in which acid from the stomach flows backward up into the esophagus. People will experience heartburn symptoms when excessive amounts of acid reflux into the esophagus. Many describe heartburn as a feeling of burning discomfort, localized behind the breastbone, that moves up toward the neck and throat. Some even experience the bitter or sour taste of the acid in the back of the throat. The burning and pressure symptoms of heartburn can last for several hours and often worsen after eating food. All of us may have occasional heartburn. However, frequent heartburn (two or more times a week), food sticking, blood
or weight loss may be associated with a more severe problem known as gastroesophageal reflux disease or GERD.
What causes heartburn and GERD?
To understand gastroesophageal reflux disease or GERD, it is first necessary to understand what causes heartburn. Most people will experience heartburn if the lining of the esophagus comes in contact with too much stomach juice for too long a period of time. This stomach juice consists of acid, digestive enzymes, and other injurious materials. The prolonged contact of acidic stomach juice with the esophageal lining injures the esophagus and produces a burning discomfort. Normally, a muscular valve at the lower end of the esophagus called the lower esophageal sphincter or “LES” — keeps the acid in the stomach and out of the esophagus. In gastroesophageal reflux disease or GERD, the LES relaxes too frequently, which allows stomach acid to reflux, or flow backward into the esophagus.
What are the treatments for infrequent heartburn?
In many cases, doctors find that infrequent heartburn can be controlled by lifestyle modifications and proper use of over-the-counter medicines.
Avoid foods and beverages that contribute to heartburn: chocolate, coffee, peppermint, greasy or spicy foods, tomato products and alcoholic beverages.
Stop smoking. Tobacco inhibits saliva, which is the body’s major buffer. Tobacco may also stimulate stomach acid production and relax the muscle between the esophagus and the stomach, permitting acid reflux to occur.
Reduce weight if too heavy.
Do not eat 2-3 hours before sleep.
For infrequent episodes of heartburn, take an over- the-counter antacid or an H2 blocker, some of which are now available without a prescription.