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What is Heartburn?

What is Heartburn?

Dr. David Pryor Jones answers the question:

What is Heartburn?

“Heartburn is a symptom that I think most humans feel from time to time. As a matter of fact, I’ve heard in the past that to be human is to get heartburn, and I think that’s probably true, anybody who’s ever eaten out at a particular restaurant or gone to a party.

It can be described a number of different ways. The most classic definition is the term we call pyrosis, which simply means burning within the midepigastric region. Another facet of it is regurgitation with which food and fluid can come up either at nighttime or after a large meal. Truthfully, the symptoms of heartburn can be very indescribable in a way, and patients simply may describe a feeling of “indigestion”, and that is a funny feeling within the mid part of their abdomen and chest, it can occur after eating, and it can lead to nausea and a queasy-feeling stomach.

Where we as gastroenterologists worry about acid reflux is not for the symptoms alone, although we do want to make patients’ symptoms go away and have them lead a happy and productive life. But we really worry that about 10 to 20% of patients who have chronic heartburn symptoms, where it’s occurring several times a week, they can develop irritation at the bottom of their esophagus that can unfortunately and ultimately lead to cancer of the esophagus. And we’re finding now that over the years the incidents, which means the amount of cases of cancer within the esophagus, are increasing.

We’re not exactly sure why, but the two biggest ties we have to that is patients who have heartburn tend to eat fatty foods, overeat, and gain weight, so those are the things that we want to target in the beginning. And what we’ve learned is that, although our medical therapy is quite effective, obviously there are side effects of any particular medicine that we would use to treat heartburn. Diet, lifestyle changes, and weight loss tend to be the predominant way to treat those symptoms that patients are experiencing.”

Read more about acid reflux and esophageal testing.

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