Heartburn is no laughing matter. While it is common in adults to have an occasional spell of heartburn, it is most annoying and often painful when it happens frequently. If you’re experiencing heartburn or regurgitation after eating a big meal or when you lie down you may want to see your doctor, especially if it occurs frequently.
People who have frequent episodes of heartburn may want to try over-the-counter antacids such as Tums or Rolaids. If they don’t do the job, a doctor may prescribe a prescription medication before he orders any tests. Often eating smaller meals, cutting down on fatty foods, foods that are high in citric acid, and spicy foods help. Pregnant women often have heartburn, and those who smoke or are overweight may also experience heartburn. Foods that are high in citric acid include fruits and vegetables such as oranges, grapefruit, strawberries, lemons, and tomatoes. Spaghetti, chili, tacos, burritos, and other spicy foods may also bring on an episode of heartburn. Even alcoholic beverages can cause heartburn.
When is it time to worry about heartburn? When antacids, lifestyle changes, and quitting smoking do not work, then it’s time to see your doctor. Your primary care physician may refer you to a Gastroenterologist, or a specialist in diseases of the esophagus. Diseases of the esophagus include GERD, esophagitis, esophageal stricture, and Barrett’s esophagus.
GER and GERD are terms you may often hear when you see your doctor. GER or gastroesophageal reflux is not severe. It is heartburn or regurgitation of your food when you lie down and it doesn’t happen frequently. If you have a mild case of heartburn, you may have GER. GERD, or gastroesophageal reflux disease, is more serious.
You may be diagnosed with GERD if you have frequent heartburn, have trouble swallowing, experience hoarseness when you are talking, or if you have heartburn and a chronic cough. Some people feel like they are having a heart attack. If you have cut down on fatty foods, spicy foods, or fruits and vegetables that have a high citric acid content, and you still have frequent heartburn and problems with regurgitation, you could have GERD. When lifestyle changes aren’t enough, and when over-the-counter antacids do not work, then it’s time to make an appointment to see a doctor.
Esophagitis is an inflammation of the esophagus that may result in ulcers. The acid in foods high in citric acid could burn a hole in the lining of the esophagus. Esophageal stricture is a narrowing of the esophagus that results in difficulty swallowing. You may know someone who has had their esophagus stretched. Barrett’s esophagus is when the tissue in the lining of your intestines is similar to the tissue of the esophageal tissue. This disease can lead to a rare form of cancer of the esophagus. If you are diagnosed with any of these diseases it is time to take your doctor seriously.