Digestive Care

Chronic Heartburn (GERD)

Heartburn is a burning sensation normally experienced behind the breastbone and sometimes in the neck and throat. Heartburn is caused by stomach acid splashing up into the esophagus. The esophagus is the muscular tube that connects the throat to the stomach. Many adults experience occasional heartburn.

Occasional heartburn is not medically significant. However, if the heartburn comes on a regular basis one should see a physician to rule out the possibility of a medical condition called GERD or gastroesophageal reflux disease. The seriousness of GERD depends on how frequently you have heartburn. Constant GERD can lead to esophageal cancer.

Symptoms and Causes of GERD

  • Frequent heartburn is a common symptom.
  • Bitter stomach fluid going into the mouth, during sleep, while bending over, or lying down.
  • Hoarseness
  • Feeling a need to clear the throat
  • Difficulty swallowing food or liquid
  • Wheezing or coughing at night
  • The following foods and habits can make GERD increase: chocolate, peppermint, coffee, alcoholic beverages, nicotine, fatty foods, obesity and pregnancy.

Complications of GERD

  • Inflammation of esophagus
  • Barrett's esophagus
  • Ulcers and bleeding
  • Esophageal cancer

Diagnostic Test for GERD

  • Patient's medical history
  • Possible Barium Swallow Study
  • Upper Endoscopy under sedation
  • Esophageal manometry

Treatment

Treatment is aimed at reducing reflux (GERD). Mild forms of GERD can be treated with lifestyle changes such as:

  • Avoid eating before bedtime.
  • Stop smoking.
  • Avoid fatty foods, milk, chocolate, spearmint, peppermint, caffeine, citrus fruits and juices, tomato products, pepper seasoning, and alcohol-especially red wine.
  • Decrease portions of food.
  • Elevate the head of the bed or mattress 6 to 8 inches.
  • Lose weight if overweight.
  • Severe forms of GERD need to be treated with medications.