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Feeling the Burn? Help for Heartburn Sufferers

Maybe it’s burning in your chest after a late-night burrito, or citrus fruits don’t sit well with you anymore. We all have heartburn now and then. Unfortunately, for many people, it’s more than an occasional annoyance.

It’s a common misconception that heartburn is a benign issue that does not come with significant risks. It is important to get these symptoms under control because uncontrolled heartburn can lead to GERD – gastroesophageal reflux disease – which can lead to complications. These include:

  • Esophageal narrowing and irritation
  • Esophageal cancer
  • Laryngitis
  • Chronic cough/hoarseness
  • Asthma
  • Wearing away tooth enamel

The good news is you don’t have to feel the burn. There’s a lot you can do on your own to reduce symptoms, and effective treatments are available.

What Causes Acid Reflux?

What causes that burning sensation beneath your breastbone? Acid reflux is caused when the sphincter between the esophagus and stomach relaxes inappropriately, allowing food to go backwards. You may also hear this referred to as acid indigestion, reflux or regurgitation. In general:

  • Acid reflux is the process of stomach contents being propelled back into the mouth.
  • Heartburn is the burning sensation you feel in your chest during acid reflux.
  • GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease) is the disease that results when acid reflux causes troublesome symptoms or complications.

An estimated one in five people in the U.S. have GERD.* While certain types of food and beverages can certainly cause symptoms, other factors that can worsen GERD include smoking and being overweight.

Symptoms of Heartburn

The most common symptom is heartburn, that burning or painful sensation in the upper chest after eating. Reflux of stomach contents into the mouth with a metallic taste is also common. Some symptoms people may not expect could include a chronic cough or shortness of breath for people with asthma.

Self-Care for Heartburn

You can improve heartburn symptoms on your own with some simple interventions. These include:

  • Avoiding foods that can trigger or intensify heartburn symptoms.
    • Fatty and fried foods
    • Chocolate
    • Onions
    • Peppermint
    • Spicy foods
    • Citrus fruits
    • Tomato sauces
    • Vinegar
    • Carbonated or caffeinated drinks, alcohol
  • Elevating the head of your bed.
  • Avoiding lying down for two to three hours after eating.

Treatment for Heartburn/Acid Reflux

If lifestyle modifications do not help and symptoms are occurring two or more times a week, seeing your primary care provider is a good idea. There are various prescription medications that can help. Seeking treatment and getting heartburn under control can help you avoid more serious complications in the future.

If you are having issues with heartburn or reflux, reach out to your Primary Care provider to schedule an appointment. 




Jake Schlemmer, MD
Jake Schlemmer, MD

Jake Schlemmer, MD is a Family Medicine provider with CHI Health.

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