Constant Heartburn? It Could Be Acid Reflux Disease
Heavy or spicy meals can often contribute to heartburn. But when it happens a lot, it may be a condition called GERD.
Some call it "indigestion." Others call it "heartburn." Both terms usually refer to a burning sensation that travels up the esophagus, a tube running from the stomach through the chest and to your throat.
Eating fatty or acidic foods can give some people heartburn. Your chances of having it increase when you lift, bend over or just lie down too soon after eating. But if you get heartburn more than twice a week, see your doctor. You may have gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD. This can lead to serious health problems such as ulcers, trouble swallowing or even cancer of the esophagus.
Symptoms of GERD
Typical symptoms of GERD are burning in the throat, belching and/or regurgitation ("wet burps"). More severe symptoms can include:
- Chest pain
- A sensation that food is trapped behind the breastbone
- Dry cough
- A lump in the throat
- The need to repeatedly clear the throat
- Chronic sore throat
- Persistent hiccups
- Nausea or vomiting
Chest pain can also be a sign of a heart attack or heart disease. Call 9-1-1 right away if you are having chest pain.
Up to 75 percent of people with frequent GERD symptoms have them at night. These nighttime symptoms also tend to be more severe than at other times.
What causes GERD?
The lower esophageal sphincter (LES) is a band of muscle that helps keep the acid and contents in the stomach from flowing back up into the esophagus. If the LES is weak, it can't fully close. Then acid from the stomach backs up. Certain foods, drugs and nervous system problems can weaken the LES, making GERD more likely.
Some conditions that may contribute to GERD
People with more severe GERD symptoms may have muscle problems with their esophagus. Others (mostly men) may have thick rings of tissue that can cause swallowing troubles.
The esophagus passes through a small hole in the diaphragm, called the hiatus, before reaching the stomach. If the hiatus enlarges, the LES and part of the stomach may push up above your diaphragm. This is called a hiatal hernia. This can weaken the LES and may contribute to GERD.
Asthma and respiratory disorders
About half of people with asthma may also have GERD. Reflux can irritate the airways in some people, leading to wheezing and asthma symptoms. Certain asthma drugs that open airways may also relax the LES and contribute to GERD.
Obstructive sleep apnea
This occurs when breathing stops temporarily during sleep. GERD is common in people with this condition.
If you think you have GERD, see your doctor to find out the cause of your symptoms. Once a cause is found, there are many lifestyle changes, drugs or surgical solutions that can help you feel better.