Is It Just Heartburn or Something More? Recognizing Acid Reflux

Recognizing and Treating Acid Reflux

Sixty million Americans suffer from heartburn every month. As a result, most people dismiss their heartburn symptoms as routine. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing – a little bit of heartburn after eating some spicy food is pretty normal.

But when you experience the symptom repeatedly, you might want to pay closer attention. That’s because heartburn could be a sign of something more: acid reflux.

What is Acid Reflux?

Acid reflux, also known as gastroesophageal reflux disease (or GERD), most often occurs due to the weakening of a specific muscle, called the lower esophageal sphincter. It’s responsible for opening up when food is moving down the esophagus and for staying closed any other time (so food doesn’t come back up). It’s designed to keep everything moving in the right direction.

As the muscle weakens, food, stomach acid, and other material can make their way up the esophagus. This can lead to various symptoms, including heartburn.

What’s the Difference Between Acid Reflux and Heartburn?

Your stomach is naturally a pretty acidic place – and that’s a good thing. Your stomach acid helps break down food and aids in the digestive process. Occasionally, the food you eat can throw off the acidic balance in your stomach, resulting in heartburn. This is the kind of thing you can solve by taking a couple of antacids.

GERD, on the other hand, is a much more systemic problem. Your stomach acids could be well-balanced and functioning normally – but because that esophageal sphincter isn’t doing its job, those acids are making their way up your esophagus.

How is Acid Reflux Treated?

The treatments for GERD or acid reflux generally depend on the severity of your symptoms. For most people, GERD can be treated with a few lifestyle changes. Your physician may advise you to:

  • Avoid foods that cause heartburn or aggravate your other GERD symptoms.
  • Sleep with your head elevated at night.
  • Take over-the-counter medications to help manage symptoms.

If these treatments do not help alleviate your symptoms, your physician may recommend a prescription-strength medication to help you. There are a variety of prescription options available, so your physician will work with you to find the right one for your symptoms.

If prescription medication does not help you manage your GERD symptoms, your physician may refer you to surgery. There are currently minimally invasive techniques and devices available that have been proven to help patients manage symptoms and reduce GERD episodes.

How Do You Know It’s Acid Reflux and Not Heartburn?

 How do you know when it’s acid reflux you’re dealing with and not simple heartburn?

That can be a challenge because heartburn is itself a symptom of GERD. Keep an eye out for the following:

  • Your heartburn happens often.
  • You experience difficulty swallowing.
  • You feel the sensation of a lump in your throat. This lump is usually undigested food.
  • You regurgitate stomach acid or even small amounts of food.
  • You have trouble sleeping at night because of these symptoms.
  • You are experiencing chest pains. Acid reflux can often cause chest pains, but it’s important to point out that if you experience chest pain, you should seek medical attention immediately.

Get Your Heartburn Checked

While occasional heartburn is common and usually harmless, persistent symptoms could indicate a more serious condition like GERD. By recognizing the signs and seeking appropriate treatment, you can manage your symptoms and improve your quality of life. If you have recurring heartburn or suspect you might have acid reflux, don’t hesitate to consult your doctor for a thorough evaluation and personalized treatment plan.

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