Everything that you should know about chronic heartburn
Chronic heartburn is a condition characterized by frequent or persistent episodes of acid reflux, which causes a burning sensation in the chest and throat. Unlike occasional heartburn, which may be caused by overeating or consuming spicy foods, chronic heartburn is usually the result of underlying medical conditions such as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). Common symptoms of GERD include chest pain, difficulty swallowing, and regurgitation of stomach acid. Treatment for chronic heartburn typically involves a combination of lifestyle modifications and medications to reduce acid production in the stomach. Causes of GERD can include obesity, smoking, and certain medications. If left untreated, chronic heartburn can lead to complications such as esophagitis, strictures, and Barrett’s esophagus. If you experience frequent or persistent heartburn, it is important to speak with your healthcare provider to determine the underlying cause and appropriate treatment options.
What are the common symptoms of chronic heartburn?
- Burning sensation in the chest: A painful burning sensation in the chest that may worsen after eating or lying down.
- Regurgitation of stomach acid: The sensation of stomach acid or food coming back up into the throat or mouth.
- Difficulty swallowing: A feeling of tightness or discomfort in the throat or chest when swallowing.
- Chronic cough: A persistent cough that may be caused by irritation of the throat and lungs due to stomach acid.
- Hoarseness: A hoarse or raspy voice that may be caused by damage to the vocal cords from acid reflux problem.
- Chest pain: Chest pain or discomfort that may be mistaken for a heart attack, especially if it occurs after eating or during physical activity.
- Nausea or vomiting: Nausea or vomiting may occur due to irritation of the stomach lining from acid reflux.
How is chronic heartburn diagnosed?
Here are some common diagnostic tests and procedures that may be used to confirm a diagnosis of chronic heartburn:
- Upper endoscopy: A procedure in which a flexible tube with a camera is inserted into the esophagus to visualize the lining of the esophagus, stomach, and duodenum. This can help identify any signs of inflammation, irritation, or damage caused by chronic acid reflux.
- Esophageal pH monitoring: A test that measures the pH levels in the esophagus to determine the frequency and severity of acid reflux episodes. A thin tube is inserted through the nose and into the esophagus, where it remains for 24-48 hours. The tube is connected to a monitor that records the pH levels and can help identify any patterns or triggers for acid reflux.
- Esophageal manometry: This test measures the intensity and systematic coordination of the tissues in the esophagus. A thin tube is inserted through the nose and into the esophagus, and the patient is asked to swallow small amounts of water. This can help identify any problems with the movement of food and liquids through the esophagus.
- Barium swallow: A test that involves swallowing a liquid that contains barium, a metallic substance that shows up on X-rays. X-ray images are taken as the liquid moves through the digestive tract, which can help identify any structural abnormalities or blockages.
What are the treatment options for chronic heartburn?
- Lifestyle changes: – This includes avoiding trigger foods such as spicy or fatty foods, quitting smoking, losing weight, and elevating the head of the bed. These changes can help reduce the frequency and severity of acid reflux episodes.
- Antacids: – These over-the-counter medications can provide short-term relief by neutralizing stomach acid. They are often taken as needed after meals and before bedtime.
- H2 blockers: – These medications reduce the amount of acid produced in the stomach and can be effective for treating mild to moderate symptoms of GERD. These medicines can be acquired from the counter with or without the prescription.
- Proton pump inhibitors (PPIs): – These medications are the most effective at reducing acid production in the stomach and are often used to treat moderate to severe GERD symptoms. They are available by prescription and some are also available over-the-counter.
- Surgery: – In severe cases of GERD that do not respond to lifestyle changes or medications, surgery may be recommended. This can include procedures such as fundoplication, in which the upper part of the stomach is wrapped around the lower esophageal sphincter to strengthen it.
Prevention of chronic heartburn
- Avoid trigger foods – This includes acidic and spicy foods, caffeine, chocolate, and alcohol. Keep track of food items that ac as your triggers..
- Eat smaller, more frequent meals – This can help prevent the stomach from becoming too full, which can contribute to acid reflux.
- Avoid eating 2-3 hours before bedtime – Lying down after a meal can increase the risk of acid reflux. So, go to bed for sleeping only after it has been at least 2-3 hours.
- Lose weight – Excess weight can put pressure on the stomach,
- which can contribute to acid reflux. Becoming lean is always an healthy option for reducing the heartburn symptoms
- Quit smoking – Smoking can weaken the lower esophageal sphincter (LES), which can allow stomach acid to flow back into the esophagus.
- Elevate the head of the bed – Using a wedge pillow or raising the head of the bed by 6-8 inches can help prevent acid reflux during sleep.
- Wear loose-fitting clothing – Tight clothing, especially around the waist, can put pressure on the stomach and contribute to acid reflux.
- Manage stress – Stress can increase acid production in the stomach and contribute to acid reflux. Practice effective techniques for reducing stress.
What are the potential complications of chronic heartburn?
- Esophagitis: Untreated acid reflux can damage the lining of the esophagus, leading to inflammation and irritation.
- Strictures: Repeated damage to the esophagus can cause scar tissue to form, which can narrow the esophagus and make it difficult to swallow.
- Barrett’s esophagus: In some cases, long-term acid reflux can cause changes in the cells of the esophagus, increasing the risk of esophageal cancer.
- Dental problems: Chronic heartburn can cause erosion of tooth enamel and other dental problems.
- Respiratory problems: Acid reflux can cause irritation and inflammation in the lungs and throat, leading to respiratory problems such as asthma or chronic cough.
- Chronic pain: Untreated acid reflux can cause chronic pain in the chest and throat.
In conclusion, chronic heartburn is a common condition that can have a significant impact on a person’s quality of life. It is usually caused by gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), a condition in which the lower esophageal sphincter (LES) weakens and allows stomach acid to flow back into the esophagus. If left untreated, chronic heartburn can lead to serious complications such as esophagitis, strictures, and Barrett’s esophagus. However, there are many effective treatments available, including lifestyle modifications, medications, and in severe cases, surgery. By working with a healthcare provider, individuals can develop a treatment plan that is tailored to their specific needs and symptoms. Dr. Vatsal Mehta is an experienced gastroenterologist who can help diagnose and treat chronic heartburn and GERD. With proper treatment, individuals can manage their symptoms and improve their overall quality of life. It is important to seek medical attention if you experience frequent or persistent heartburn. To fix an appointment, just contact alfa gastro and liver care.