More than 60 million Americans have heartburn at least once a month. It is common to experience a little heartburn after eating spicy foods or drinking alcohol. It may feel like chest pain or burning after eating, a sour taste in the back of the throat or hoarseness. Occasional symptoms are often prevented by avoiding trigger foods and treated with antacids to decrease heartburn and acid indigestion. But suffering daily, long-lasting or frequent heartburn symptoms should not be ignored and may indicate a more serious condition.
As many as 15 million Americans, including pregnant women, suffer from daily heartburn. Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is a chronic but treatable digestive disorder that refers to irritation and damage of the lining of the esophagus from prolonged exposure to stomach acid. This damage occurs because of a weakening or relaxing of the lower esophageal sphincter (LES), a ring of muscle that separates the esophagus from the stomach. When this valve is weakened, food and acidic stomach juices will leak up into the esophagus.
What Causes Heartburn?
- Alcohol, particularly red wine
- Citrus fruits and products, such as oranges and orange juice
- Coffee and caffeinated drinks, including tea and soda
- Fried or fatty foods
- Garlic, raw onions, and other spicy foods
- Tomatoes and tomato sauces
- Certain esophageal conditions or diseases
Treatments for Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease
Typical treatments for Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease include medication to reduce the acid and lifestyle changes to help reduce the reflux symptoms – such as avoiding trigger foods, decreasing portion sizes, losing weight, quitting smoking, elevating the head of the bed, and not eating before bedtime.
For certain patients who have had chronic acid reflux, an upper endoscopy may be recommended to assess severity and to uncover any pre-cancerous changes. If GERD is left untreated or unmonitored for a long period of time, it can result in a condition called Barrett’s esophagus which can progress to cancer.
Barrett’s esophagus is a disorder in which the inflamed, acid-damaged cells in the lining of the lower esophagus change to resemble those found in the stomach. As a result of this transformation, Barrett’s patients have an increased risk for esophageal cancer.
At Atlanta Gastroenterology Associates, many of our physicians are specially trained in the treatment of Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease and Barrett’s esophagus. If you’ve noticed that your heartburn symptoms are frequent, severe, longstanding, or getting worse, schedule an appointment today.
Patricia Sánchez, MD, is a board-certified gastroenterologist with Atlanta Gastroenterology Associates and sees patients at the Johns Creek location. She evaluates and treats all types of digestive and liver diseases and has a special interest in women’s digestive health and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), a disorder that involves chronic inflammation in the digestive tract and includes Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. A native of the Dominican Republic, Dr. Sanchez completed her medical degree at the INTEC School of Medicine in Santo Domingo, residency at the Cleveland Clinic in Florida, and a fellowship in gastroenterology at the University of Missouri in Kansas City. She speaks Spanish, French, and Italian.
Atlanta Gastroenterology Associates • Dr. Patricia Sánchez • AtlantaGastro.com