Many people suffer from occasional heartburn – an unpleasant burning sensation in your chest and a sour taste in your mouth. Heartburn occurs when acids and juices in your stomach come back up through the tube (esophagus) that connects your throat to the stomach.
However, if your heartburn is severe and bothers you often, it’s known as GERD – gastroesophageal reflux disease. GERD is a common disorder that affects up to one in five people in the U.S.
In addition to heartburn, other common symptoms of GERD are a feeling you have something stuck in your throat, nausea or trouble swallowing.
Sometimes GERD can feel like you’re having a heart attack, so it’s important to be able to recognize the difference. A burning sensation from GERD usually occurs after you eat. Pain from a heart attack feels like heaviness, tightness, discomfort or a dull ache. With your heart, you might also experience shortness of breath, sweating, or pain in your arm or shoulders. In that case, call 911.
Chronic GERD can cause esophageal ulcers, scarring and put you at risk for esophageal cancer. If you are having difficulty swallowing or notice blood in your vomit or stool, seek medical attention immediately.
Your doctor may be able to diagnose your GERD simply by talking to you about your history with heartburn. Further testing can include an endoscopy, barium X-ray or 24-hour monitoring to see if acid is coming up and how long it stays.
If you’re having issues with acid reflux once or twice a week, a chewable or liquid antacid might be enough to do the trick. If your reflux is chronic, talk to your doctor about over-the-counter medication options.
You can also consider the following lifestyle changes to improve your symptoms, including:
If you have heartburn more than twice a week, or other symptoms of GERD, it’s time to see your doctor. At Mercy, we can help relieve the discomfort and get you back to enjoying life and the foods you love to eat.