Chronic heartburn - heartburn esophagus infographic

The word heartburn may well describe the sensation of acid reflux, but it fails to communicate the part of the body where damage can occur: the esophagus.

Sometimes called the food pipe, the esophagus delivers everything we eat or drink to the stomach. The esophagus keeps food there by way of a muscular valve that prevents the backflow of digestive juices; the body’s normal and specialized combination of hydrochloric acid, potassium chloride and sodium chloride.

The actual term for chronic heartburn is gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD, a condition where acid from the stomach flows backwards into the esophagus and over time can lead to serious complications; one being a pre-cancerous condition called Barrett’s Esophagus.

But how does one know if they have GERD versus a little tummy trouble? Check the following list and see if you have symptoms.

You might experience…

  • A burning sensation that moves up and burns the back of your throat
  • An acid taste in the mouth
  • Reflux after meals and during the night
  • Reflux more than twice a week
  • Only temporary relief from over-the-counter antacids

Some people may also have a chronic cough or wheezing. These seemingly unrelated symptoms could also indicate GERD.

So if you’re having two or more of any of these symptoms, talk to your doctor. There are lifestyle changes your doctor will recommend, such as losing weight and avoiding trigger foods.  However, if lifestyle changes don’t help, you might have a weakened ‘valve’ and this is a physical issue that requires treatment to help protect the esophagus.

There are different classes of medications your doctor can prescribe, and sometimes you may have to switch medications if symptoms return. The doctor may also order diagnostic tests such as endoscopy or an upper GI series.

Written by: MaryAnne Pankhurst

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