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Heartburn: How to Know When You Should See A Doctor

Do you have a burning sensation in your chest after eating? It could be heartburn.

Heartburn is a symptom of acid reflux, which is also known as gastroesophageal reflux (GER). Acid reflux occurs when the lower esophageal sphincter relaxes (LES) and allows liquids in the stomach to flow back into the esophagus. When functioning normally, the LES relaxes to allow food into the stomach during eating and contracts to prevent any backflow into the esophagus.

When acid reflux causes injury to the esophagus or causes irritating symptoms, it becomes gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). When acid reflux happens two or more times a week, damage to the esophagus is more likely.

If you’re currently suffering from heartburn, you may be wondering when it’s time to take the next step. Read on for three signs that it’s time to see a doctor.

1. You have frequent or severe symptoms of GERD.

Recurrent acid reflux causes GERD. A relaxed LES allows stomach acid allowed to flow back into the esophagus. Stomach acid can irritate or damage the lining of the esophagus. This can cause inflammation and can lead to more serious conditions over time. Symptoms of GERD include:

  • Heartburn
  • Chest pain
  • Dysphagia (swallowing difficulties)
  • Regurgitating food or sour liquid
  • Feeling like there is a lump in your throat

If you have acid reflux at night, you might experience coughing, laryngitis, asthma, and sleep disruption.

2. You take over-the-counter heartburn medications two or more times a week.

Many people with acid reflux take over the counter medications, like Tums, Maalox, and Mylanta. Though they may provide symptom relief, if you find yourself using them two or more times per week, you should see a doctor. Your doctor may recommend an over-the-counter or prescription-strength proton pump inhibitor (PPI). It’s important for your doctor to discover and understand the root cause of your heartburn.

3. You have made lifestyle changes that aren’t working.

There are changes you can make to your life that reduce the chances of acid reflux. These include changing what you eat, what you wear, and how you exercise. The following are all things that should be avoided:

  • Caffeine. Too much caffeine relaxes the LES, which allows stomach acid to flow into the esophagus.
  • Chocolate. Chocolate contains a few things that may cause acid reflux. The acidity in cocoa powder, caffeine, and other ingredients can relax the LES. If you eat chocolate in moderation, you may not see symptoms. Symptoms may occur when chocolate is combined with other GERD triggers, like eating right before bed.
  • Peppermint. Peppermint foods and drinks get their flavor from menthol. Menthol is numbing and soothing, and this effect can relax the LES. Spearmint is an alternative that has less menthol.
  • Tight-fitting clothing. Tight clothing can constrict the stomach and force acid into the esophagus. Exmaples of tight clothing include belts, pants, or shapeware.
  • Heavy lifting. Though exercise and weightloss are good for controlling GERD symptoms, strenuous exercise can cause acid reflux. These exercises include heavy lifting or crunches.

Do you have any of these signs?

If you have one or more of these signs, it’s time to see a doctor. Schedule an appointment today.

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