It is hard to imagine having to deal with the constant discomfort of constant heartburn every day for most people. However, it is something that many people quietly suffer from as it can be a very embarrassing to talk about with others. But something that many people forget about when it comes to heartburn is that it isn’t just the discomfort and pain that these people have to endure, as they are also battling with bloating, gas, burping, indigestion, bad breath, and reflux. These side effects of persistent heartburn make the problem all that more embarrassing as there is little they can do to hide these side effects without making their discomfort worse.
Many people don’t understand what heartburn is to begin with and may not even realize that their discomfort is caused by heartburn. To properly explain heartburn and what causes the discomfort that those who suffer with frequent heartburn are feeling is rather simple, it is the reflux of the acids in the stomach irritating the esophagus. This discomfort can be felt just below the breast bone and can be a constant burning sensation which can create a feeling of continuous discomfort. Other things that can be caused by chronic heartburn include Esophagitis, Hiatal Hernias, Ulcers and Barrett’s Esophagus which can be treated but make the discomfort all the more unpleasant.
People believe that food is to blame for the cause of heartburn, however, this is not exactly the case although it can make things worse or difficult to control. Heartburn is caused by the esophageal sphincter not closing tight enough or opening too often and allowing stomach acid contents to make its way into the esophagus causing the burning sensation. Heartburn that occurs occasionally is nothing to worry about, but constant heartburn that reoccurs frequently can cause many other problems and can be considered chronic heartburn or gastro-esophageal reflux disease otherwise known as GERD.
Heartburn doesn’t just affect a single group of people, unlike diabetes or high cholesterol, more than 60 million Americans suffer from chronic heartburn. For some of those people, their heartburn problems have led to more severe heartburn related issues later on in life when untreated. These issues include GERD, as well as, many other unpleasant problems. However, that doesn’t really help to single out who suffers from heartburn or chronic heartburn. Studies have shown that smokers are more likely to suffer from heartburn than non-smokers, those who suffer from headaches and take nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs or NSAIDS like ibuprofen frequently, and those who take fish oil supplements. Other people who are more likely to suffer from heartburn issues include people who undergo high levels of stress, both at home and at work, as well as people who are overweight or pregnant. However, if none of these describe you and your current lifestyle, it can sometimes be left to genetics.
When attempting to treat your persistent heartburn, one of the first things you will want to look at is your diet. How does this help your heartburn problems? Diet can be the root of many problems and it never hurts to eat healthier and change your eating habits for the better. When you analyze your current eating habits, you will want to avoid trigger foods such as food that has been fried, tomatoes, citrus, peppermint, spices, chocolate, as well as carbonated beverages. You may also want to consider cutting back the amount of alcohol and caffeine that you consume to help reduce your heartburn’s frequent reoccurrence. Other suggestions that have been made by many physicians include eating smaller meals and avoid eating two to three hours before your bedtime, and cut back the amount of aspirin and other pain relievers if you take them frequently.
However, this is just the first step to help take care of your constantly reoccurring heartburn and its symptoms, there are other things that your physician may ask that you try. You may also find that your physician will prescribe you with a medication or recommend a medication to help control your frequent heartburn as it can become dangerous if it goes untreated for a long time. You do have options for treating your chronic heartburn such as over-the-counter antacids, acid blockers, proton pump inhibitors, and other prescription drugs such as Reglan or Favicon. Your doctor may also ask that you visit a gastroenterologist to have an endoscopy performed to see the extent of the damage caused by the stomach acid contents to the esophagus. Without treatment, your frequent heartburn can turn into long-term GERD and increase your risks later in life of cancer of the esophagus as well as other permanent effects.
There are a few things you should look for with persistent heartburn that will give you clues of a present problem. First, if you have issues with heartburn more than three times throughout the week. Second, if you have had problems with your heartburn for four years or longer. Third, you have been taking over-the-counter antacids for a long period of time. Fourth, you need more than the regular or recommended dose of antacids than necessary to treat your heartburn. And finally, you are getting no relief from your symptoms no matter what you try. These can all be indicators that you should contact your doctor for an appointment. You should not let these symptoms continue if you want to safely avoid more or worse health problems in the future, especially since chest pain should never be taken lightly in any situation. It has been proven that the burning and irritation feeling of heartburn can also be an indicator of a heart attack as well and if your pain gets worse and you cannot contact your doctor, you should call the emergency room right away.
Keep in mind that if you are having chronic heartburn problems, it is very possible that your issues may not be heartburn and could be something else. This is why it is extremely important that you speak with your doctor about your persistent heartburn issues and ensure that you do everything the doctor says to ensure that your issue isn’t something else. For example, Angina can mimic heartburn symptoms and is due to a lack of blood flowing to the heart. This is common in people over 50 years of age or younger people with hypertension and family history of Angina. Gallstones are another problem that mimics chronic heartburn and will resist antacid treatments, if you have already tried taking an antacid and your discomfort has not gone away, then you may want to contact your doctor for possible gallstones. Stomach ulcers are another mimic when it comes to chronic heartburn and while antacids can help to relieve the pain felt due to an ulcer, it will flare up again once the antacid is out of your system. Cancer of the esophagus is another mimic of heartburn and you can easily be tested for this if you have heartburn problems. While leaving heartburn untreated can increase your risks for esophageal cancer, it should not be ruled out unless you are tested by a doctor for this possible cause. If you are a diabetic and have problems with heartburn, then your issues may be due to Gastroparesis. This is due to poorly controlled diabetes and is caused by nerve damage that can affect your digestive system. Pleuritis or Costochondritis is another possibility with heart burn symptoms. While this is an inflammation of the chest cavity and lung lining, pleurisy can feel much like a heartburn. However, if it hurts when you breathe deeply or move, your problem may not be heartburn but rather a pleurisy. With Costochondritis, you will be experiencing inflammation in the cartilage that anchors the ribs to your breastbone. This can cause you intense amounts of pain along the breastbone and is easily treated with pain relievers and rest. All of these things can easily be tested for by your doctor to ensure not only your safety but also your health. There are many other problems that will mimic heartburn and it is better to be safe rather than sorry.
While nobody likes dealing with heartburn, and many of the symptoms of heartburn are embarrassing to talk about with others, it is best to take action when you are experiencing any form of chest pain. If you are taking antacids to relieve your heartburn related symptoms and you are not getting any relief, then contacting a medical professional should be done immediately or as soon as possible. They will be able to properly diagnose you or have you come in for an appointment to help you find the reasons for your persistent heartburn issues, as well as, get you the proper treatment for your heartburn. You should always be conscious of your health and listen carefully to your body when it tells you that there is a problem.