That painful burning feeling in your throat or upper chest may be called “heartburn” but it has nothing to do with the heart. Heartburn happens when stomach acid backs up into your esophagus, the muscular tube that connects your throat to your stomach. While the occasional bout of heartburn isn’t cause for alarm, experiencing heartburn regularly means you need to talk to Dr. Gaston.
Situational heartburn, from eating too much or eating spicy or unusual foods, can generally be eased by taking over-the-counter antacid tablets. When you take antacids several times a week, your heartburn may be a symptom of a more severe problem like acid reflux or GERD.
Your stomach manufactures powerful hydrochloric acid to break down food and destroy harmful bacteria. While the lining of the stomach is specially adapted to protect it from this acid, the esophagus is not. A ring of muscle, the lower esophageal sphincter or LES, acts as a valve that lets food into the stomach and prevents it from moving back up into the esophagus. When this valve fails, stomach contents move back up into the esophagus, causing acid reflux, that burning feeling, and symptoms including:
• bitter or sour taste in the mouth or throat
• sore throat
• pressure felt in the chest.
Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is a severe form of acid reflux. GERD is chronic, weakening the muscles at the bottom of the esophagus, allowing stomach acids to leak back into the esophagus and cause pain. GERD is typically diagnosed when acid reflux occurs more than twice a week or it causes inflammation in the esophagus.
GERD symptoms include
• bad breath
• damage to tooth enamel due to excess acid
• feeling like stomach contents have come back up to the throat or mouth, vomit or regurgitation
• chest pain
• persistent dry cough
• trouble swallowing
When you experience the telltale symptoms of heartburn, acid reflux or GERD, Dr. Gaston may diagnose it with a physical examination and a review of a detailed history of your symptoms. When your symptoms don’t improve with treatment, Dr. Gaston may perform an upper endoscopy. To confirm a diagnosis of GERD, he may also perform esophageal pH monitoring, where a probe is placed near the LES. The probe will measure the degree of acidity in that area for 24 hours, sending measurements to a recording device that Dr. Gaston will then review. The probe will then dislodge itself and pass harmlessly through your digestive system.
Work to control GERD or minimize acid reflux by implementing some lifestyle changes:
• If you smoke or vape, quit.
• If you are overweight, lose weight
• Avoid foods that trigger heartburn, such as chocolate, citrus fruits and juices, tomatoes and tomato-based products, mustard, vinegar, mint products, and spicy, highly seasoned, fried, and fatty foods.
• Avoid caffeine such as coffee, tea, cola) because these can relax the lower esophageal sphincter (LES).
• Avoid alcohol, which relaxes the LES.
• Eat several small meals throughout the day instead of three large meals.
• Eat your food slowly and chew it thoroughly.
• Wait at least three hours after your last meal before going to bed, and make it a habit to avoid lying down for three hours after a meal.
• Sleep with your head and shoulders propped up with a wedge pillow, or elevate the head of your bed by 6 to 8 inches by putting blocks of wood under the bedposts under your head.
When you’re “feeling the burn” more than twice a week, it’s time to make an appointment with Dr. Gaston to determine the cause and begin appropriate treatment.
Questions about GERD, acid reflux or heartburn? Call 773-238-1126 or click here to make an appointment. Dr. Gaston is always happy to help!