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14 Surprising Facts About Heartburn and GERD


You may have experienced that burning sensation that signals heartburn after a large meal or if you eat right before bed. The cause is stomach acid (and contents) leaking up into your esophagus, called acid reflux.

When heartburn happens frequently or is the cause of inflammation in your esophagus, it’s called gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). You might be surprised to learn that the cause isn’t always food.

Here are 14 surprising facts about heartburn and GERD:

  1. Even though heartburn and GERD start in your stomach, they aren’t necessarily caused by food. Other factors, like being overweight or smoking can lead to heartburn.
  2. Peppermint may soothe an upset stomach, but it can also make heartburn worse. The same peppermint side effect that helps soothe your stomach also relaxes the lower esophageal sphincter (LES), allowing stomach contents to leak up into your esophagus.
  3. A hiatal hernia is a surprising cause of heartburn. A hiatal hernia is when part of the stomach squeezes up through the muscle wall (diaphragm) that normally keeps it in place.
  4. Smoking and inhaling second-hand smoke can cause heartburn. Tobacco smoke makes your LES relax, allowing stomach contents to leak up into your esophagus.
  5. Heartburn can cause breathing problems. It can cause hoarseness, sore throat, coughing, asthma, a need to clear your throat, and overproduction of mucus in your throat.
  6. Sleeping on your left side can ease nighttime heartburn symptoms. Raising the head of your bed can also help.
  7. Heartburn is a known side effect of many common medications, including some for blood pressure, asthma, allergies, depression, anxiety, and erectile dysfunction.
  8. Tight clothing can cause heartburn. Anything that squeezes your abdomen can push stomach acid up into your esophagus.
  9. If you don’t feel the burn but have a chronic cough, sound hoarse, clear your throat a lot, and feel like you have a lump in your throat frequently, you may have throatburn reflux, also known as laryngopharyngeal reflux (LPR).
  10. Chronic irritation from heartburn and GERD can damage the lining of your esophagus, a condition called Barrrett’s esophagus. If not treated, it can lead to esophageal cancer.
  11. GERD doesn’t just wake you up with heartburn. Sometimes, it can cause you to breathe in stomach acid in your sleep and contribute to obstructive sleep apnea. This discomfort can disrupt your entire sleep cycle. The negative impact to your sleep can be serious. A lack of quality sleep can affect your brain function, daytime functioning, emotional and physical health.
  12. Chewing gum after a meal can reduce heartburn by increasing your need to swallow, which helps to reduce reflux. But not mint gum; menthol used to flavor mint gum can cause heartburn.
  13. Acid reflux can harm your teeth and gums (and can cause bad breath). In fact, the acid can harm nearly anything it touches.
  14. Sinus pain and headaches are some of the more surprising (and rare) symptoms of heartburn.

Early diagnosis and proper treatment are important to keep that annoying burning from becoming a long-term problem. Gastroenterology Consultants of San Antonio specializes in acid reflux treatment. To learn more, call 210-614-1234 or request an appointment online.

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