Put a little extra spicy sauce on your dinner? Or, did you overeat last night? There’s a good chance you may feel like your breathing fire right now. Suffering from heartburn with that burning sensation in your chest is no fun. Nearly everyone experiences heartburn in their life. However, if you’ve been experiencing heartburn at least twice a week for multiple weeks, there’s a good chance you have acid reflux disease. In the US, about 10 to 20 percent of the population suffers from this disease. More than 60 million Americans suffer from heartburn at least once a month. Not only is this a horrible disease to physically deal with, but $40 billion annually is spent on diagnosing and treating the disease.
There are two types of acid reflux disease: gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) and laryngopharyngeal reflux disease (LPRD). With GERD, the stomach acid travels to the esophagus and with LPRD the refluxed material travels further up the throat. Most people will experience heartburn when the lining of the esophagus encounters too much stomach acid for a prolonged period. The resulting tissue inflammation of the esophagus causes the burning sensation. Chronic acid reflux is associated with abnormal cellular/tissue changes that over time increased the risk of esophageal cancer. This “precancerous” tissue change is known as Barrett’s Esophagus/Disease. This concern/development is one of the reasons physicians will recommend a referral to a gastroenterologist for direct endoscopy of the esophagus for new onset and significant chronic heart burn.
Chronic reflux can lead to persistent cough, night time sleep difficulty, hoarseness of the voice and scarring or stricture of the esophagus. The primary symptom of stricture or blockage/tumor in the esophagus is a sensation or actual experience of food or pills getting “stuck” in the chest. Left unattended over time this can result in an emergency known as food bolus impaction- a very dramatic emergency due to intense pain/lodging of food and intense salivation as normal saliva can’t get down into the stomach.
Chest pain: Often, people experience chest pain from the stomach acid splashing into the esophagus. This type of chest pain can sometimes be mistaken for a heart attack. If you have chest pain, do not ignore it and contact a doctor for evaluation.
Pain when lying down: When you lay down, acid can better leave the stomach and enter the esophagus. If you’re experiencing heart burn, try angling your back in bed, and avoid a big meal or fluids before bedtime.
Pain from Eating: When a person with acid reflux eats a big meal, the stomach pushes the contents up, which causes heart burn. To avoid this, avoid big fat-filled meals and watch alcohol and tobacco intake. Alcohol, caffeine, chocolate and nicotine/smoking decrease the muscle tone of the lower esophagus which promotes refluxing of stomach contents/acid.
Bitter taste in the mouth: When the acid is released upward from the stomach, it can land in the back of your throat and leave a bitter taste in your mouth. Sometimes, this bitter taste can cause people to choke.
Other symptoms: Coughing, hoarseness, sore throat, nausea, asthma, trouble swallowing, pain in the chest with eating, and extra saliva.
There are quite a few treatment options for acid reflux. For minor cases, avoiding certain food and beverages (chocolate, coffee, greasy or spicy foods, alcohol) will help reduce heartburn. Also, cutting back or stopping smoking, reducing weight, and taking over-the-counter medications can help.
For more serious cases, a person should talk to his or her doctor about symptoms; the heartburn could be a sign of another possible condition, or stronger prescription medication may be needed. As noted earlier if the problem is significant and especially if the sensation of food getting stuck is noted a direct endoscopy by a specialist is recommended.
If you’re suffering from acid reflux or heart burn and unable to manage it, it’s time to contact a doctor. Dr. Kordonowy of Internal Medicine, Lipid & Wellness of Fort Myers can diagnose and treat you for your symptoms. Don’t deal with the pain anymore and call 239-362-3005, ext. 200 or Call Dr. Kordonowy, A Fort Myers Internal Medicine Physician to book an appointment.
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