Why Heartburn Gets Worse With Age

If you can’t scarf down a burger or binge on pizza like you did as a teen because you pay for it in painful heartburn afterward, you’re among up to 40% of adults in the United States who feel the burn. That stat makes heartburn seem almost inevitable; and in some cases, it is.

While there are many preventable causes of heartburn, there are some factors you just can’t control, and your age is one of them.

Heartburn occurs when acid in your stomach occasionally slips into your esophagus, irritates the lining, and causes the burning sensation you feel in your chest. It also explains its nickname “heartburn.”

If this problem happens frequently — at least twice a week — the culprit may be the sphincter at the bottom of your esophagus. When it malfunctions, your stomach acids leak upward into your esophagus more regularly and may damage your esophageal lining. The most severe form of acid reflux is called gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).

Symptoms range from mild to severe, and serious complications can result if you don't seek treatment. Dr. Darrien Gaston at Metropolitan Gastroenterology Consultants in Chicago, Illinois, specializes in diagnosing and treating all types of esophageal issues, including heartburn, acid reflux, and their chronic cousin GERD.

The first step in developing the right treatment plan for your esophageal issues is to identify the source. Dietary choices, smoking, sleep position, and weight can all contribute to the problem, but one of the lesser known factors in heartburn is age. Here, Dr. Gaston explains why you’re experiencing heartburn more often as you get older.

You have old muscles

As you age, all the tissues in your body gradually become weaker. As muscle mass wanes and fibers degenerate, you may notice that you can’t lift the same weight as you did in your youth. But your biceps and quads aren’t the only muscles affected. 

Your lower esophageal sphincter is a muscle, too. If that muscle weakens with age and doesn’t open and close on cue or doesn’t seal off your stomach with a tight and constant squeeze, you experience heartburn.

You’re taking medications

It’s no secret that as the human body ages, health problems set in, and your medicine cabinet fills up. Unfortunately, some medications come with a side effect of heartburn, including:

These are just a few of the many medications that can trigger a backwash of stomach acid into your esophagus. Talk to Dr. Gaston about the medications you’re taking, and whether there are alternatives that are gentler on your stomach.

You’re overweight

Anything that puts pressure on your lower esophageal sphincter can cause it to relax and allow acid past its guard. That’s why overeating oftens ends in a night of heartburn, because the pressure increases in the stomach. Pregnancy can have the same effect. 

If you’ve gained weight as you’ve aged, that may be the reason behind your heartburn. In fact, studies show that being just 10-20 pounds overweight makes you three times more likely to have heartburn.

You have hiatal hernia

With age, the stomach muscles and tissue fibers weaken, and it’s not uncommon for the upper portion to bulge into the chest cavity, a condition called hiatal hernia. This causes your diaphragm to reposition as well, so it can no longer keep stomach fluid in its place — heartburn.

About 50% of adults over 60 suffer from a hiatal hernia, and about 20% of all pregnant women develop one in their second trimester. 

If your golden years have brought on heartburn, come see Dr. Gaston. He evaluates your diet and lifestyle and can help you make changes to ease your symptoms. He may also prescribe medications to keep your heartburn under control. If your weight is an issue, he offers a nonsurgical weight loss treatment that reduces your stomach size and eliminates up to 30% of the calories you consume. 

Whatever’s causing your heartburn, we can help. Schedule an appointment online or call us at 773-312-5932, today.

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