It is the middle of the night, and you are digging through the medicine cabinet to find antacid tablets. Occasional heartburn could be caused by eating heavy meals before bedtime. However, chronic heartburn symptoms are an issue that should be addressed. Not only is it painful and disruptive in your life, but it can also indicate underlying health problems.
Although you may feel the fiery sensation in your chest, it is your esophagus burning from excess stomach acid. Left untreated, this condition could eventually burn ulcers in your esophagus or worse. Let’s take a closer look at how heartburn works.
What Is Chronic Heartburn?
Pyrosis, commonly called “heartburn,” is a blazing pain in your lower chest. However, it has nothing to do with your heart. Along with the pain, you might have a bitter or sour taste in your mouth. The sensations may hit you after overeating or when you lie in bed at night. Sometimes, your heartburn may last for a few minutes. Other times, it can endure for hours.
Between the esophagus and stomach, there is an opening that allows food to enter the stomach called the lower esophageal sphincter (LES). It acts as a safety valve to prevent stomach contents from gurgling back up into your esophagus. It will open just long enough to pass food, then it closes. When the ELS does not fully close, stomach acids enter the esophagus. These potent acids irritate the esophagus, causing heartburn.
Symptoms of heartburn can be mild or severe, depending on what or how much you have eaten. There will be burning pain in your lower chest and throat, due to the stomach acids in your esophagus. The sensations might make you choke, cough or be hoarse. You may have difficulties swallowing during an episode of heartburn.
Quickcare or ER?
Red flags that will send you to the ER:
- Heartburn that will not stop.
- Sudden, sharp chest pain.
- Severe stomach cramps.
- Sudden weakness, fainting or shock.
- Chronic coughing with pain.
- Pain when eating or extreme difficulty swallowing.
- Pain in the abdomen or chest that shifts.
- Unexplainable weight loss.
- Squeezing, Pressure-like pain in the chest
Diagnosing Chronic Heartburn
What Will Your Doctor Ask?
First, your doctor will ask what kind of symptoms you are experiencing. It is important for him/her to know about any pain or other symptoms. He/she will also ask how long you have been feeling this way. While it is normal to have occasional heartburn, chronic heartburn symptoms are serious.
Your doctor may ask how long each episode lasts, and the severity of the chronic heartburn symptoms. He/she needs to know if you experience these symptoms more during the day or at night. The doctor may interview you about what types of food you eat, how often, and if you notice any foods that trigger symptoms. The physician will also review your medical history.
He/she will ask if you drink soda, coffee or alcohol, and how much a day. Since smoking can contribute to heartburn, your doctor will ask if you smoke. Be prepared to tell your doctor about any prescriptions or over-the-counter medications you are taking, as well as any herbal supplements. Tell your doctor if you are pregnant or nursing. Questions about exercise and stress levels may be explored as well.
What Signs/Symptoms Will Your Doctor Look for?
Most people recognize the signs of chronic heartburn symptoms and can easily relay them to their doctor. Since heartburn can be a symptom of an underlying disorder, your physician will take note of what you report and what he/she observes.
The usual signs/symptoms will be unpleasant burning sensations in the throat or chest—especially after eating. After a physical exam, the doctor will review your narrative and see if the symptoms match heartburn or another problem. He/she may order further testing for a correct diagnosis. One test is Helicobacter Pylori. This a bacteria that may cause severe acid.
What Is the Treatment For Chronic Heartburn Symptoms?
For mild to moderate heartburn, your doctor may suggest over-the-counter antacids. Most come in liquid, capsules or chewable tablets. He/she may recommend that you take these medications as a preventative measure or take them when you are experiencing a heartburn episode.
Antacids usually contain sodium bicarbonate which neutralizes the acid in your stomach. Liquid antacids coat the lining of your esophagus, preventing excess acid from burning your esophagus. Some of them have ingredients that reduce the acid in your stomach. If the diagnosis is H. pylori, then antibiotics are warranted.
Do not self-medicate with these remedies without a physician’s care. Overusing some antacids may cause painful constipation, while others could cause diarrhea. Discuss antacids with your doctor to see which one would be best for your chronic heartburn symptoms. Be sure to attend follow-up appointments with your doctor, to check on your progress.
Changes in eating habits and lifestyle may reduce the frequency and severity of chronic heartburn symptoms. Smoking cessation may not only help heartburn, but it can benefit your health across the board.
A registered nutritionist can show you how to limit foods in your diet that trigger chronic heartburn symptoms, such as sugar, fat, and hot spices. You may need to restrict food portions and not eat 2-3 hours before bedtime. Alcohol and caffeine are prime suspects for chronic heartburn symptoms. In certain cases, you might need to limit or eliminate them from your diet.
Even moderate exercise, such as yoga, may benefit your digestive tract. As a result, you might lose weight, which may also make you less symptomatic. If over-the-counter remedies and lifestyle changes do not make a difference, your doctor may prescribe stronger medications.
For How Long Will You Have Chronic Heartburn Symptoms?
There is no definitive timeline for resolving chronic heartburn symptoms. It depends on the severity of your heartburn and the treatment plan your doctor prescribes. While some antacids may work instantly, other medications may take days or weeks to see the difference.
For some people, treatment for chronic heartburn symptoms may completely resolve the problem. If your case is severe, you may need maintenance treatments to make your symptoms manageable.
If your heartburn is more than just an occasional nuisance, you should seek medical treatment right away. Chronic heartburn symptoms can erode your esophagus and cause detrimental problems in your digestive tract. These symptoms can also overlap with other serious diseases that can be life-threatening. Talk to your doctor about any of your concerns.
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