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How Long Does Heartburn Last? What to Expect

How long does heartburn last?

Are you suffering from heartburn and wondering when you’ll have relief? Typically triggered by certain foods, overeating, or lying down after a meal, heartburn can range from a mild, occasional annoyance to a severe, chronic condition known as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). Here’s what you need to know about so you know what to expect.

What Causes Heartburn?

Heartburn occurs when stomach acid backs up into the esophagus, the tube that carries food from your mouth to your stomach. When acid backs up or refluxes, it can irritate the lining of the esophagus and result in a burning sensation in your chest or throat.

How Long Does Heartburn Last?

The length of time it lasts can vary significantly from person to person and episode to episode. The duration often depends on several factors, including whether the it is occasional or chronic.

Occasional Heartburn

Occasional heartburn occurs sporadically, typically less than twice a week. Most people experience it at some point, often triggered by:

  • specific dietary choices
  • stress
  • lifestyle habits

The main symptom is a burning sensation in the chest or throat after eating, lasting from a few minutes to several hours. Other symptoms may include:

  • regurgitation of food or sour liquid
  • mild upper abdominal discomfort
  • a bloated feeling

Symptoms of occasional heartburn are generally mild and manageable with over-the-counter antacids or lifestyle adjustments. Someone experiencing this type may consider dietary changes, weight management, and avoiding lying down immediately after meals.

Occasional heartburn is usually not a sign of underlying health issues. It’s more of a discomfort that can be controlled with minor interventions and lifestyle changes.

Chronic Heartburn or GERD

GERD occurs frequently, often more than twice a week, and the symptoms can become persistent and disruptive.

In addition to those associated with occasional heartburn, GERD may include more severe signs like:

  • difficulty swallowing (dysphagia)
  • chronic cough
  • laryngitis
  • a sensation of a lump in the throat

Chronic symptoms are more severe and may not be alleviated with over-the-counter medications. Prescription medications or even surgery may be necessary for management.

Chronic heartburn, especially when associated with GERD, can have the potential of leading to more severe complications, including:

  • esophagitis: an inflammation of the esophagus
  • esophageal narrowing or strictures
  • Barrett’s esophagus: a precancerous condition in which the esophageal lining is changed due to chronic acid exposure
  • an increased risk of esophageal cancer

If you experience heartburn more than twice a week, have difficulty swallowing, or if your symptoms persist despite over-the-counter treatment, it’s important to talk to a doctor.

How Are Heartburn Symptoms Treated?

Several strategies can be used to improve symptoms or potentially reduce the length of episodes.

  1. Over-the-counter antacids can provide quick relief, usually within minutes, but the effect may be temporary.
  2. Prescription medications are designed to reduce stomach acid production or improve esophageal motility and can offer longer-lasting relief.
  3. Eating habits can influence the duration. Large meals or meals close to bedtime often make symptoms worse. Eating smaller meals and avoiding lying down immediately after eating may help.
  4. Avoiding foods and beverages that trigger heartburn, such as:
    • spicy foods
    • citrus fruits
    • tomato-based products
    • chocolate
    • caffeine
    • alcohol
  5. Maintaining a healthy weight. Excess weight can increase abdominal pressure and worsen symptoms.
  6. Elevating the head of your bed by 6-8 inches helps prevent stomach acid from flowing back into the esophagus while sleeping.
  7. Smoking can weaken the lower esophageal sphincter (LES), the valve that prevents stomach acid from entering the esophagus. Quitting may reduce symptoms.

Finding Relief

Remember, if you are experiencing signs of persistent acid reflux, it is vital to have a medical evaluation. Your provider will help you manage your symptoms effectively and screen for potential complications, including Barrett’s esophagus. Contact our office today to schedule your consultation.
Don’t continue to live with chronic heartburn symptoms – schedule an appointment today!

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