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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.
I don’t know about you, but in an emergency, my brain doesn’t work very well. My one and only time to have ever gone to the emergency room for myself was several years back. It was before I met my husband, so I was home alone, it was about midnight, and after several asthma attacks, each getting progressively worse, I finally decided that if I didn’t do something soon, I could be in a very dangerous situation. And so I threw on some sweat pants and drove myself to North Hills Hospital’s ER.
Looking back, I should never have driven myself, but again, my brain doesn’t work very well in an emergency.
Now, typically when I go to the doctor, I am prepared. I bring all of my medications (when you have asthma, there’s a lot) in a ziplock bag so that if the doctor throws me a curveball by asking me specifics about my meds, I’m ready.
But when you drive yourself to the ER in the middle of the night, there’s no time to run around grabbing medications. Or anything else for that matter. You’re lucky if you remember your shoes.
Which is why it’s a good idea to keep an updated medication log for each person in your family. Keep it in a handy place so that if you’re in a jam, you’ve got everything you need to take with you.
And if you’re like me, you’re more motivated to keep up with it if it looks pretty.
And so here is my gift to you – a handy medication log that you can use for each member of your family. You’d better believe that my husband and I will have this all filled out, ready to go for the next emergency.
Only this time, he’ll be the one driving me.
Bethe Wright is the Director of Marketing and Public Relations at North Hills Hospital. She has a husband, a dog, and a little yellow inhaler.