Chronic heartburn may be a symptom of a larger problem.
It happens to most of us at one time or another; we eat a spicy meal, or perhaps drink a caffeinated beverage, and later we get a burning feeling in our chests. Most people know that as heartburn. But when the burning becomes chronic, it’s called gastroesophageal reflux disorder (GERD).
Thanksgiving meals can lead to overeating and heartburn, so this week is designated as GERD Awareness Week. Here’s a closer look at GERD.
Acid in the Esophagus
Normally stomach acid stays where it should—in the stomach. But if the muscle barrier between the stomach and esophagus doesn’t work properly, the acid can back up into the esophagus, causing heartburn. For many people, heartburn occurs only right after eating and less than once a week.
Is it GERD?
The burning sensation in your chest could be GERD if:
- You have frequent heartburn.
- Your heartburn gets worse over time.
- Your heartburn happens off and on over several years.
- The discomfort from your heartburn wakes you at night.
- You can’t swallow easily or swallowing is painful.
Other Symptoms of GERD
While heartburn is the most common symptom, these could also indicate that you have GERD:
- Chronic sore throat
- A feeling that food is sticking in the throat
- Gum inflammation
- Hoarse voice in the morning
- Sour taste in the mouth
Dyspepsia, which consists of:
- Pain or discomfort in the upper abdomen
- Full feeling in the stomach
- Acid backing up into the throat
- Chest pain (always see a doctor to rule out that the chest pain is not linked to a heart condition, rather than GERD)
Some Risk Factors
You might have a higher chance of developing GERD if you:
- Are obese
- Smoke tobacco
- Drink alcohol
- Are pregnant
- Have asthma or other chronic respiratory diseases
- Are a postmenopausal woman using hormone replacement therapy
- Commonly lie down soon after a big meal
If you think you have GERD, see a doctor. If untreated, GERD can increase the risk of more severe ailments, including esophageal cancer. At North Hills Hospital, our doctors can detect and treat GERD before it becomes a major medical issue. Call 1-855-5NHILLS for a referral.