For many of us, heartburn is an all-too-familiar sensation: a burning in your chest, throat and stomach. Sometimes called "acid indigestion," it occurs when stomach acid comes up from the stomach and into the throat. While certain foods can trigger heartburn symptoms for some, regularly-occurring heartburn can also be a sign of a more serious condition like GERD (gastro-esophageal reflux disease), which is the chronic reflux of stomach acid into the esophagus.|
Two signs that indicate you could have a more serious problem than heartburn alone include 1) experiencing heartburn two or more times per week and 2) having difficulty swallowing even when heartburn isn't present (due to acid irritation that has caused the esophagus to become inflamed). If either of these sound like you, make an appointment with your doctor right away.
In addition, if you experience any two or more of the symptoms or habits below, you should consider seeing your doctor:
What to Expect at Your Doctor's Visit
To prepare for your doctor's visit, you should consider keeping a heartburn journal to track your symptoms. Plan to do this for at least two weeks to make sure you have enough information collected. Each time you experience a bout of heartburn, note symptoms, timing, foods you ate and other activities that may be related. Be sure to note the time of day, how long the symptoms persist and if you take any over-the-counter heartburn remedies.
To diagnose GERD and ascertain the damage to your esophagus, your doctor will likely order one or more tests including:
Heartburn isn't—and shouldn't be—something you just have to put up with forever. And it isn't something you should ignore either. Your healthcare provider can help you prevent and treat frequent heartburn and prevent its complications so you can improve your everyday life—and your health.
This article has been reviewed and approved by Becky Hand, Licensed and Registered Dietitian.
Mayo Clinic, "Gerd," accessed on April 29, 2013. www.mayoclinic.com.
Medline Plus, "Gerd," accessed on April 29, 2013. www.nlm.nih.gov.
WebMD, "When to Call the Doctor about Heartburn or Reflux," accessed on April 29, 2013. www.webmd.com.