Occasional heartburn isn’t cause for concern, but if you’re among over one-third of US adults experiencing this symptom of acid reflux every week, it’s time to seek medical help. This is because chronic heartburn could signal a serious underlying condition called gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).
Triple board-certified gastroenterologist John M. Rivas, MD, specializes in diagnosing and treating heartburn and GERD at the Rivas Digestive Center in Hollywood, Florida. If you’re having a hard time managing heartburn on your own, keep reading to learn why you shouldn’t ignore it any longer and how Dr. Rivas can help.
What is heartburn?
You experience the burning discomfort of heartburn because of acid reflux. This happens when your stomach acid goes back into your esophagus, the tube that connects your mouth and stomach.
Almost everyone experiences acid reflux at some point. This can happen occasionally for many reasons, from eating too much food, which could put pressure on the sphincter that keeps the opening to your esophagus closed, or from eating foods that are spicy or high in acid.
When this happens once in a while, chances are over-the-counter (OTC) heartburn medicine is enough to manage your symptoms. But if you experience acid reflux more often, it could be cause for concern.
Why should I see a medical provider about heartburn?
If you get heartburn frequently—at least two times per week—you could have GERD, which develops when stomach acid runs back into your esophagus frequently.
The delicate tissues of your esophagus weren’t designed to handle harsh stomach acids. As a result, you experience frequent and often severe heartburn.
Over time, you may also experience other symptoms, such as feeling like you have something in your throat, issues with swallowing, stomach discomfort, a metallic or acidic taste in your mouth, a morning cough, and chronic bad breath.
It’s important to see a medical provider if you experience frequent heartburn or any other symptoms of this condition because untreated GERD can lead to serious health complications, including:
- Esophagitis (ulcers in the esophagus)
- Esophageal stricture (narrowing of the esophagus)
- Barrett’s esophagus (changes in the tissue that increase your risk of cancer)
- Aspiration (breathing) stomach acid/contents into your lungs
You can also develop asthma-like symptoms, serious dental problems, and even tooth loss.
Are there treatments for chronic heartburn?
Yes! Your GERD treatment begins with an accurate diagnosis, however, as some other GI conditions may cause similar symptoms.
Once Dr. Rivas has an accurate diagnosis, he creates a personalized GERD treatment plan to meet your needs. GERD treatments vary based on your symptoms, medical history, and other factors but may include:
- Lifestyle changes to stop heartburn before it starts (read some of our top tips here)
- Over-the-counter antacids to provide fast relief
- H2 blockers to reduce stomach acid
- Proton pump inhibitors to block acid production
- Minimally invasive surgery (e.g., Nissen fundoplication)
For help with recurring heartburn, schedule an appointment online or over the phone at the Rivas Digestive Center in Hollywood, Florida.