The term “heartburn” is frequently used by doctors and patients alike; however it usually has nothing to do with the heart. Instead, heartburn is more commonly a symptom of acid reflux. More than 60 million Americans experience acid reflux at least once a month, but in certain cases, the uncomfortable sensation can signify a more serious condition, such as gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD.
GERD is the chronic, more severe form of acid reflux that can damage the lining of the esophagus, cause a narrowing of the airway and potentially lead to esophageal cancer.
“Acid reflux happens when the contents of our stomach, including acid, pushes back up into our esophagus,” explains Dr. Freda Lewis-Hall, chief medical officer of Pfizer. Besides a burning feeling in the chest, acid reflux can trigger bloating, stomach discomfort, upper abdominal pain, burping, regurgitation, nausea after eating and a sour taste in the mouth. People with GERD tend to have additional symptoms, such as chest pain, difficulty swallowing, dry cough, hoarseness, sore throat and sometimes a sensation of having a lump in the throat.
Dr. Lewis-Hall stresses that people should not ignore symptoms of frequent acid reflux. “They should talk to their doctors; they should get a diagnosis and then a treatment plan that would work for them," she says.
While prescription and over-the-counter medications can help control acid reflux, there are other non-medicinal ways to prevent and alleviate the symptoms.
Dos and Don’ts for Managing Acid Reflux
- Do maintain a healthy weight.
- Do eat smaller meals throughout the day.
- Do elevate the head and torso while sleeping.
- Do consult a doctor if symptoms persist.
- Don’t wear constricting clothing or tight belts.
- Don’t eat overly large meals.
- Don’t lie down directly after a meal.
- Don’t eat within 2-3 hours before bedtime.
- Don’t smoke.
Additionally, avoiding spicy and acidic foods, as well as alcohol, coffee, tea and carbonated drinks, can help keep acid reflux at bay.
Dr. Lewis-Hall reiterates the importance of consulting a doctor if acid reflux symptoms continue or progress, particularly if you experience chest pain or unexplained weight loss. “Call your doctor right away,” she says. “It’s really important for you to get a proper diagnosis and rule out any other serious medical conditions.”
For more information on treating acid reflux and GERD, visit www.gethealthystayhealthy.com.
Sponsored by Pfizer