Patients experiencing heartburn often report a burning sensation in their chest, just behind the breastbone. Pain often peaks after eating, in the evening hours, or when lying down or bending over. And while occasional bouts of heartburn are quite common, when pain interferes with your everyday life, a more serious condition may be to blame – and medical care may be required.
If heartburn only causes mild discomfort, simple lifestyle changes or over-the-counter medication are often effective solutions. There’s no need to suffer in silence, so contact your local GI specialist today!
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Heartburn occurs when stomach acid backs up into the esophagus, the tube that transports food to your stomach. When your digestive system is functioning as it should, a band of muscle at the esophagus’s base (lower esophageal sphincter) relaxes to allow food into the stomach, then retightens.
But if the muscles malfunction, stomach acid is free to flow back up into the esophagus, causing heartburn. Bending forward or lying down makes it even easier for the acid to flow, which is why acid reflux symptoms are often worse in these scenarios.
Acid reflux causes heartburn, as explained above. Frequent or constant reflux can lead to GERD, causing a more chronic issue as opposed to occasional discomfort.
Certain foods and drinks can trigger heartburn, including:
These foods may help keep uncomfortable symptoms at bay:
Occasional heartburn affects many Americans, often triggered by a particular rich or acidic meal. The added abdominal pressure experienced during pregnancy can cause heartburn too.
Heartburn that occurs very regularly, though, is a symptom of GERD, or chronic acid reflux. About 20% of people in the U.S. suffer from GERD, especially those with certain risk factors – like obesity (body mass index greater than 30), being overweight (BMI over 25), smoking, or exposure to secondhand smoke.
If your heartburn stems from acid reflux, you may experience:
Other unusual symptoms of acid reflux, include:
If heartburn prevents you from participating in your normal, daily activities, gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is likely the culprit. Treatment options include prescription medication, surgery, or other medical procedures. Because prolonged GERD can damage the esophagus and even lead to precancerous changes (Barrett’s esophagus), it is crucial to see your gastroenterologist in Charleston.
Keep in mind that chest pain may be indicative of a more serious condition, like a heart attack. If chest pain or pressure become severe, seek medical attention immediately. If you are also experiencing pain in the arm or jaw, or are having trouble breathing, call 911 right away.
While emergency care may not be needed for the following symptoms, we strongly recommend scheduling an appointment with local GI specialist:
Here at Charleston GI, our board-certified gastroenterologists may perform the following to reach a diagnosis:
In many cases, non-prescription medications do the trick, with over-the-counter products like these effectively relieving heartburn:
If non-prescription treatments just don’t cut it, consult a gastroenterologist near you. Prescription medication and further testing may be required.
Lifestyle changes like these can help ease heartburn:
Before visiting your local GI specialist, prepare by:
Common Questions to Ask Your Gastroenterologist
In addition to the questions that you've prepared to ask your doctor, don't hesitate to ask other questions during your appointment.
Focused on providing a higher standard of caring, your gastroenterologist will first ask you some questions, including the following:
After you’ve thoroughly answered, your GI doctor will perform a physical exam. Further testing may be required as well to determine the root cause of your condition.
How long does heartburn last?
Heartburn may last anywhere from a few minutes to a few hours. In many patients, symptoms subside when the last meal eaten passes out of your stomach – about two to five hours, depending on the meal.
What does heartburn feel like?
Heartburn feels like acid burning in your chest. Heartburn begins in the esophagus, but the burning sensation often radiates through your chest and sometimes into your throat. It may be mild or severe.
When does heartburn occur?
You may notice that heartburn worsens when:
When should I seek medical care for heartburn?
See your GI doctor if:
What changes can I make to manage heartburn?
To help prevent acid reflux:
How alike are heartburn and heart attack symptoms?
Heartburn, angina, and heart attack may feel very similar. Even seasoned medical professionals can’t always distinguish one from the other based solely on your medical history or a physical exam. If chest pain sends you to the emergency room, tests will likely be performed right away to rule out a heart attack.
What's the best thing to do if I have chest pain and aren’t sure what's causing it?
If you have persistent chest pain and you aren't certain that it’s heartburn, call 911 or seek emergency medical care immediately. If you do not seek medical attention during the event, be sure to contact your health care provider as soon as you can. Pain may be a warning sign or an indicator of a more serious issue.
What common signs and symptoms are more often associated with a heart attack than heartburn?
A "textbook" heart attack is defined by sudden, crushing chest pain and difficulty breathing, often triggered by exertion. But this is not always the case. Signs and symptoms vary greatly from one patient to the next, but the most common include the following:
Note: The most common symptom of heart attack for both men and women is chest pain. Women are more likely to experience some of the other symptoms, though. Heart attacks are more common among those with high blood pressure, diabetes, or high cholesterol. Smokers and overweight or obese people also face a higher risk.
Are there additional digestive symptoms that cause chest pain?
A muscle spasm in your esophagus may cause chest pain that feels very similar to a heart attack. A gallbladder attack may also cause pain that spreads to your chest. With gallbladder disease, however, you may experience nausea and an intense, persistent ache in the upper middle or upper right abdomen – especially after eating a rich, fatty meal. Again, if you are not sure that’s causing your chest pain, it’s better to be safe than sorry! Seek medical attention immediately.
I’ve never had an issue with heartburn before, why is it happening now?
If heartburn is relatively new, and you haven’t recently made any dietary or lifestyle changes, it may be caused by one of these:
Is heartburn always caused by acid reflux?
Heartburn is usually caused by acid reflux, but symptoms may mimic those of certain GI conditions, like these:
Is heartburn a serious condition?
Occasional heartburn is uncomfortable but is not a cause for concern. In fact, some amount of acid reflux is perfectly normal. If it happens regularly though, your esophagus lining may not have enough time to heal in between, and damage may result.
When your esophagus lining is consistently injured, it can lead to long-term complications, like:
Acid reflux may also reveal other digestive system concerns, like gastritis or stomach ulcers. That’s why it’s important to schedule an appointment with a gastroenterologist near you. Contact Charleston GI today – no referral needed!
Charleston GI offers board certified gastroenterologist to diagnose and treat your GI issues. Plus, patients can easily schedule an appointment – no referral needed!