More than 60 million Americans experience heartburn every month. Too much spicy food or a large Thanksgiving spread can bring heartburn. Heartburn is caused by acid reflux and feels like a burning sensation in the chest, reaching up to the mouth. Reaching for antacid brings immediate relief. But should persons ignore more frequent episodes? Frequent heartburn may be an indication of gastroesophageal reflux disease or GERD.
One heartburn too many
While heartburn is a common condition, frequent heartburn is not regular. Extreme heartburn could be a sign of an underlying issue. Close to 15 million experience heartburn more than once per week. This could be a symptom of gastroesophageal reflux disease or GERD. Over 20% of the population has some degree of GERD. Severe cases can cause damage to the esophagus, requiring medical help.
Oh my GERD!
GERD is the process where stomach acids flow back into the esophagus. When someone eats, food goes down to the stomach through the throat. Where the esophagus meets the stomach is a sphincter muscle. This muscle prevents dangerous stomach acids from flowing back into the tube. If the muscle gets weakened, stomach contents can spill back. This causes irritation and damages the lining of the esophagus.
Look out for these factors
These 2 key signs can be the source of GERD. The first is intense pressure or work that can damage the sphincter muscle. A chronic cough, for example, is a sign of GERD. Regular large meals place additional work on the muscles. Persons suffering from obesity are more likely to have GERD. Gastric emptying is also another factor. This is the time food takes to move from the stomach to the small intestine.
Beware of weak muscles
Another factor for GERD could be the degrading of the muscles in the esophagus. Research has shown excessive alcohol can damage the esophagus, causing GERD. Certain medications can affect the lining of the esophagus. Previous surgery can also reduce muscle function.
Got these symptoms?
The almost angina-like feeling in the chest is a clear sign of GERD. The source is usually heartburn, brought on at night or when lying down after a large meal. Other symptoms include difficulty swallowing and a sour taste. In some cases, persons with GERD can regurgitate food, experience a night cough, or even get asthma.
Take heartburn seriously
GERD can disrupt the quality of life and may need medical treatment. Acid reflux and heartburn are common signs. Persons with weight and alcohol issues should also be concerned. Frequent heartburn is not typical. Seek advice from a doctor if heartburn happens several times weekly. Doctors can help prevent GERD from developing into a more severe condition.