Most people know that burning feeling in the chest after eating a little too much. Heartburn is a common and mostly harmless problem. However, there is sometimes a concern that heartburn is really a more serious issue called gastroesophageal reflux disease, also called acid reflux or GERD. Below, we will discuss how you can know whether the heartburn you feel may be a sign of GERD and how to approach diagnosis and treatment.
What is normal heartburn?
Sometimes eating certain foods or eating too much food causes acid in the stomach to move up into the esophagus. This causes a burning feeling in the chest or throat. Heartburn can sometimes make it difficult to continue with your daily routine or to sleep, and it can last for up to twenty-four hours.
However, there are some signs to watch for that may indicate a more serious problem than normal heartburn.
How do you know if your heartburn has become acid reflux?
Simply put, your heartburn may be gastroesophageal acid reflux disease if it is causing problems that negatively impact your everyday life. Some things a person with GERD might experience are:
- Sleeplessness: If your heartburn is frequently disrupting your usual sleep schedule and patterns, this may be a sign of acid reflux disease.
- Extreme pain in the throat: severe acid reflux can cause acid to eat away at the lining in the throat and esophagus.
- Cough and laryngitis: Chronic laryngitis and coughing can be symptoms of GERD.
Another problem that accompanies GERD is a condition called Barrett’s esophagus. This is a condition where the tissue in the esophagus changes due to acid reflux. There aren’t symptoms specifically associated with Barrett’s esophagus, but having Barrett’s esophagus may increase a person’s risk of developing a rare esophageal cancer called adenocarcinoma. People with Barrett’s esophagus should receive regular screenings for this type of cancer.
Treatment for GERD
Treatment for acid reflux disease mostly consists of diet and lifestyle adjustments.
- Weight loss: people who are overweight are more likely to experience acid reflux than those at healthy weights. Eating well and exercising often can promote weight loss and reduce your risk of developing acid reflux disease.
- Avoiding certain foods: some foods that commonly cause acid reflux symptoms are spicy food, coffee, alcohol, and chocolate. Ultimately, you know your body best and can determine which foods cause acid reflux for you.
- Medication: Some over-the-counter medications are meant to reduce the acid that is produced in the stomach which helps prevent heartburn and acid reflux.
If you experience heartburn and think that you may have signs of acid reflux disease, bring your concerns to your doctor. He or she will be able to help you diagnose the problem and offer advice about treatment.