Heartburn & Reflux Center

Common Heartburn

Almost 40 million Americans suffer from chronic heartburn - not the occasional heartburn that can be treated with antacids - but the persistent heartburn that is life-altering and, in fact may be a symptom of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). It interrupts their sleep, limits their activities, keeps them from the foods they love; in short, it changes the way they live their life. Many rely on over-the-counter or daily prescription medications to help control it. Others opt for surgical treatment. Each individual varies with regard to severity of the disease and the best treatment option.

Most can benefit from a better understanding of the disease and its causes.

What is GERD?
GERD is a condition in which stomach acids reflux, or "back up," from the stomach into the esophagus. When this happens it causes a sharp, burning sensation in the chest area between the ribs or just below the throat. This burning sensation can spread throughout the chest and into the throat and neck. "Heartburn," a word commonly used to describe this sensation, is actually a symptom of GERD. Other symptoms can include vomiting, difficulty swallowing, and chronic coughing or wheezing.

What causes GERD?
At the point where the esophagus connects to the stomach there is a small ring of muscle that acts like a one-way valve. This muscle, called the lower esophageal sphincter (LES), opens when you swallow to allow food to pass into the stomach. Normally, this valve should close immediately after swallowing to prevent the stomach acids from refluxing back into the esophagus where they can burn and irritate. GERD occurs when this valve weakens or fails to close properly.

What contributes to GERD?
Some people are born with a naturally weak sphincter (LES). For others, eating spicy or fatty foods, certain types of medication, smoking, drinking alcohol, vigorous exercise, wearing tight clothing, or changes in body position (bending or lying down) can cause the weakening of the LES, causing stomach acids to reflux into the esophagus. While a hiatal hernia can also be present in a patient that suffers from GERD, doctors agree that it alone cannot cause GERD.

Do You Have GERD?

Take this test, based on a test from the American College of Gastroenterology, to see if you're a GERD sufferer and are taking the right steps to treat it.

1) Do you frequently have one or more of the following:

a) An uncomfortable feeling behind the breastbone that seems to be moving upward from the stomach?
b) A burning sensation in the back of your throat?
c) A bitter acid taste in your mouth?

2) Do you often experience these problems after meals?

3) Do you experience heartburn or acid indigestion two or more times per week?

4) Do you find that antacids only provide temporary relief from your symptoms?

5) Do you take the maximum dosage of over-the-counter medication?

6) Are you taking prescription medication to treat heartburn, and still having symptoms?

7) Do you have trouble swallowing or persistent abdominal pain?

If you said "yes" to two or more of the above, you may have GERD. To know for sure, see your doctor.