Persistent heartburn can lead to bigger problems

Persistent heartburn can lead to bigger problems

A once-brimming bowl of chili sits empty on the table — testament to a meal that’s fast becoming an afterthought. But when a burning sensation creeps into the chest, followed by a bitter aftertaste, it’s time to head to the cabinet for some antacid.

You’ve got heartburn. Nothing’s really on fire, and the problem isn’t your heart — but acids that were supposed to stay put in the stomach are in reflux, moving up and irritating the lining of the esophagus.

“I’m sure most people have had it at some time or another,” says Dr. Joel Sarachek, a family physician with the highly rated UCLA Medical Group — Parkside office in Santa Monica, Calif.

Estimates vary, but researchers say up to 1 in 4 Americans have heartburn on a weekly basis. Usually it’s little more than an annoyance, but sometimes it can lead to bigger problems.

In addition to acid reflux, frequent, severe heartburn can be a sign of a persistent condition called gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD. That can wreak havoc on the esophagus, eroding the lining and causing other complications called Barrett’s esophagus to occur. In rare cases, if left untreated, it can lead to cancer, he says.

Heartburn treatment

If heartburn doesn't go away on its own, usually an over-the-counter antacid will do the trick, but be warned that overuse can cause diarrhea or constipation. Avoiding things that might aggravate heartburn — such as eating a heavy meal two to three hours before going to bed — and propping up the head of your bed on 6- to 9-inch blocks can also help.

If regular symptoms persist, the doctor might recommend a prescription medicine designed to reduce the amount of acid made by the stomach.

"Surgery is quite rare," Sarachek says. "It would more likely be necessary in someone who has a hiatal hernia." With this condition, the stomach protrudes through the diaphragm and reflux is more common.

Is it heartburn or a heart attack?

Although unrelated, symptoms can easily be confused with a heart attack. Heartburn usually leaves one with a bitter taste, while chest pain associated with a heart attack often feels more like pressure, like someone pushing on your chest, Sarachek says. But if you’re not sure what you’re experiencing, especially if pain persists, seek medical attention immediately.


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Symptoms and Treatments for Heartburn and Acid Reflux in Children


Antacids can help ease heartburn and acid reflux symptoms, but before giving to a child, consult their pediatrician. (Photo by Brandon Smith)
Antacids can help ease heartburn and acid reflux symptoms, but before giving to a child, consult their pediatrician. (Photo by Brandon Smith)

Find out how to recognize heartburn symptoms in children, which starts with acid reflux, and how to treat it before it leads to more serious complications.

Leave a Comment - 5




I approached the GERD issue with a trusted nutrition counselor. What was critical for me was a grain-free diet, dropping processed foods, and using good-quality bifidus cultures to get the gut back in shape. I went from not being able to swallow, to a time on Prilosec, to finding peace with no drugs. Consider what you put in your mouth!



In addition to that, some OTC fluoride rinses (adult) can cause heartburn.

I have recently been diagnosed with GERD. I am 40 and have had heartburn from none to mild to severe since I was in college. I recently went to the doctor for a cough that wouldn't go away (4 months). Turns out it is the acid reflux.

I am about 45 pounds overweight, so I am working on losing the excess, because I know that will reduce the pressure on my stomach. I'm also taking Prilosec and it helps, but I still cough a minute or two after ingesting anything. Plus, I am having some joint pain, especially in my left hip. It started with this medicine, so I'm going to check with my doctor to see if it's related and if I should switch to another med.

Amy Hopkins


Some misted or sprayed medications change the normal acidity level in the mouth. The ones that I'm most familiar with are used to treat asthma, COPD and emphycema. Usually the instructions for these drugs say to rinse and gargle with water after taking each dose.
Sometimes it is necessary to follow the water with an alcohol-based mouth wash rinse and gargle to prevent the growth and spread of a mold(candida) that causes thrush in the mouth, esophagitis and ultimately, gastritis as it travels downward. This will definitely cause heartburn and reflux. Talk about correct methods of taking these medications with the doctor who prescribes them or the nurse in the office. Talk to your pharmacist who fills the prescription to double check the method of administration. Then RELIGIOUSLY follow those instructions to avoid a lot of discomfort.

Amy C. Manon


I was taking rx medicine for acid reflux for about 2 years and guess what? It causes bone loss, which lead to rx meds for bone loss. the rx meds for bone loss cause acid reflux. check with your dr.

Lori L


I used to take Prilosec daily, after a stressful engagement break-up some 20 years ago (I am now 51). This year, I started eating a quasi-macrobiotic diet and the acid has completely gone away. Mostly eliminated: Bread, cereal, coffee, milk, cheese. Instead: Brown rice (or barley or other cooked whole grains), beans/tofu, seitan, tea. Lots of fresh veggies, too. What a difference--and no more meds.

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