In Chicago, the food scene offers an overwhelming amount of local joints serving up the gut-busting fare that makes us famous, but it often comes at a cost — heartburn. And judging by the number of commercials and social media ads, this after-meal discomfort is pretty common.
The reason you’re bombarded with ads for products that address heartburn is that millions of Americans suffer from digestive problems that cause chest pain, pressure behind the breastbone, a bitter taste in the throat or mouth, cough, and a sore throat. In fact, about 20% of adults experience these symptoms so often, it’s considered a chronic condition.
At Metropolitan Gastroenterology Consultants in Chicago, Illinois, Dr. Darrien Gaston treats patients suffering from mild to severe forms of indigestion, but there’s more to this gut problem than meets the eye. Here’s a closer look at heartburn, acid reflux, and GERD, so you can treat them accordingly.
A vocabulary lesson
Before we dive into the details of your heartburn, it’s important to make sure we’re on the same page. There are a few terms that tend to get tossed around as if they are interchangeable, but they have distinct definitions. So, Dr. Gaston starts by clarifying the difference between them.
Heartburn has nothing to do with your heart. It is the name given to the feeling you experience in your esophagus when acid flows up from your stomach. Since it occurs in the upper portion of the esophagus, you feel the pain in your chest region. Heartburn is a symptom, not a condition.
Anytime the acid from your stomach sneaks up into your esophagus, it’s called acid reflux. Normally, the muscle called your lower esophageal sphincter closes tightly enough to prevent that backflow, but when it weakens or fails, the acidic matter can travel upward and cause a burning sensation.
Acid reflux happens to most everyone once in a while after a large or spicy meal. If it happens frequently, you may have a more serious form of acid reflux called gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).
If you experience acid reflux twice a week or more, you’ve crossed the line between acid reflux and GERD, the chronic version of the problem that can lead to some significant health issues.
Signs you have GERD, not common acid reflux
Because GERD, by definition, occurs more frequently, it has ample opportunity to cause damage. The acidic substances from your stomach irritate and inflame the soft tissue in your esophagus, which not only causes heartburn, but other symptoms as well, including:
- Foul-smelling breath
- Regurgitation into your throat
- Chronic coughing
- Damaged tooth enamel
- Chest pain
- Difficulty swallowing
- Worsened asthma symptoms
While common acid reflux is typically related to what you ate, how much you ate, or lying down after a large meal, GERD often stems from something more than these occasional habits. Instead, physical attributes and more ingrained, long-term habits are usually to blame if you have GERD. Here are a few examples of some GERD causes:
- Excess alcohol consumption
- Certain medications
- Hiatal hernia
If your acid reflux symptoms disrupt your life, especially if any of the above traits apply to you, it’s a pretty clear sign that you have GERD.
The first step toward reducing your GERD symptoms is to address your diet and the other factors contributing to the problem. If you smoke, quit. If you drink alcohol excessively, cut back. You can also ease your symptoms by avoiding acidic foods and caffeine.
If you’re significantly overweight or obese and can’t seem to lose the extra pounds, we can help. Dr. Gaston offers both traditional and minimally invasive procedures that decrease your stomach’s capacity, so you eat less and lose weight.
The time to address your GERD is now, because if you ignore it, you risk severe complications, such as ulcers, esophageal damage, and cancer.
To find out for sure whether you have acid reflux or GERD, schedule an appointment online or call our office today.