Almost everyone experiences heartburn at one time or another. Around 60 million Americans deal with heartburn at least once a month. And more than 15 million Americans experience heartburn daily.
Heartburn often feels like a burning chest pain beneath the sternum. This occurs due to the abnormal reflux of stomach contents into the esophagus. Frequent acid reflux and heartburn can lead to health problems.
People who experience heartburn more than two times per week have a chronic medical condition known as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). According to the American College of Gastroenterology, GERD affects around 20% of Americans.
This article will highlight when you should see your doctor for heartburn and the symptoms you should look out for. We’ll also discuss the diagnosis and treatment of heartburn, including natural treatment options. Keep reading to learn how you can manage heartburn.
When to Call Your Doctor About Heartburn
Heartburn has a range of extremes. Some people may only feel an occasional burning sensation in the lower chest. Whereas others may experience medical emergencies.
Generally, if you have symptoms of heartburn that occur occasionally and go away quickly, you rarely need to visit a doctor. Lifestyle and diet modifications can often improve infrequent heartburn symptoms.
You should visit your doctor if you have frequent episodes of heartburn, such as heartburn that occurs more than twice a week. You should also see a board-certified gastroenterologist if you’ve had heartburn for a long time or had persistent heartburn that went away. This could be a sign of a medical condition known as Barrett’s esophagus.
The most common symptoms of heartburn are chest burning and regurgitation. But it can also cause other symptoms that warrant seeing a doctor, such as:
Stomach or chest pain
A raspy voice or sore throat
Nausea or vomiting
If you have any of the following symptoms, you should make an appointment with a gastroenterologist as soon as possible:
Trouble swallowing or a feeling that food gets stuck on the way down
Choking when you eat
Losing weight without trying
Vomiting blood or passing black stools
Diagnosis and Treatment of Heartburn
Heartburn is often diagnosed based on your symptoms and medical history. In more severe cases, your doctor may perform testing to confirm a diagnosis of GERD. The following tests can check for damage in the esophagus or stomach:
Upper endoscopy: During this procedure, your doctor inserts a scope down your throat to examine the esophagus and stomach. This test can biopsy tissues to check for abnormalities and diagnose the severity of the disease.
Barium x-ray: This x-ray test allows your doctor to visualize the back of your throat, esophagus, and stomach. Before the test, you drink a chalky substance called barium. Barium absorbs x-rays, which highlight your internal organs. This helps detect structural or functional problems with swallowing.
PH monitoring: This test monitors acid reflux by inserting a tiny, wireless capsule into the esophagus. The capsule sends information to a monitor that tracks your sleep, diet, and symptoms. PH monitoring is the most accurate way to detect stomach acid in the esophagus.
Treatment for heartburn generally starts with diet and lifestyle changes. But if your symptoms persist, your doctor may recommend medications or surgery.
Natural Treatments for Heartburn
Treatment for heartburn is often successful with non-invasive, natural treatment options. Many people can reduce or eliminate their heartburn symptoms with diet and lifestyle changes. Keep reading to discover natural treatments for heartburn that you can try today.
Avoid Trigger Foods
Acidic and fatty foods can cause heartburn because they relax the lower esophageal sphincter (LES). If the LES doesn’t close tightly like it’s supposed to, the stomach contents can move upward into the esophagus. This can irritate the esophagus and cause heartburn. Fatty foods also cause the stomach to produce more acid, which can increase your risk of acid reflux.
Avoiding common trigger foods for heartburn can help relieve your symptoms. You should avoid acidic and fatty foods such as:
Citrus fruits such as lemons, oranges, and grapefruit
Greasy foods such as pizza and potato chips
Carbonated beverages such as soda or sparkling water
Practice Healthy Lifestyle Habits
Maintaining a healthy weight with regular exercise and a plant-based diet can lower your risk of heartburn. Excess weight in the abdominal area increases pressure on the stomach, which can cause stomach acid and bile to leak into the esophagus. For people who are overweight, reducing abdominal fat can often improve symptoms of heartburn.
Avoiding harmful substances such as nicotine and alcohol can also prevent heartburn. Both nicotine and alcohol weaken the LES and stimulate the production of stomach acid. Quitting smoking and limiting your alcohol intake can help manage heartburn symptoms.
Change the Way You Eat
Overeating can cause heartburn because it increases pressure on the LES. Your stomach expands when you eat, which can cause the stomach contents to push against the esophagus. Eating smaller, more frequent meals or eating until you’re full can reduce pressure on the LES and lower your risk of acid reflux.
Chewing your food slowly can also prevent heartburn by reducing the amount of air you swallow. The stomach releases excess air by belching, which relaxes the LES and can cause acid reflux.
Lastly, you should avoid eating before lying down. Eating your last meal at least two hours before bedtime can give your body time to digest your food and reduce the amount of acid in the stomach. If you lie down after eating, gravity won’t keep the stomach contents away from the esophagus. Elevating your head after eating can drastically reduce your risk of acid reflux and heartburn.
Gastroenterologist in Plano, Texas
Heartburn affects millions of people in the United States with varying levels of severity. If your symptoms are mild and only occur occasionally, you most likely don’t need to see a doctor. But you should see a gastroenterologist in Plano if you experience heartburn more than twice a week. Or if you have heartburn that’s uncontrolled by over-the-counter medications or lifestyle changes.
You should also see a gastroenterologist as soon as possible if you experience any of the following symptoms:
GI doctors receive specialized training in the diagnosis and treatment of gastrointestinal disorders. They are the most qualified medical professionals to evaluate your digestive condition. Without treatment, frequent heartburn can cause chronic inflammation in the esophagus. It can also increase your risk of complications such as:
Heartburn often responds well to natural treatment options. But medication or surgery may be necessary to treat severe cases. Managing symptoms of heartburn early can prevent lasting damage to the esophagus.
Kenneth Brown, MD is a board-certified gastroenterologist in Plano, TX. He has a special focus on IBS-related symptoms and bridging the gap between traditional and functional medicine. Dr. Brown received his medical degree from the University of Nebraska Medical Center in 1998 and completed his Fellowship in Gastroenterology & Hepatology at the University of Texas Health Science Center in 2004. In addition to his gastroenterology practice, Dr. Brown is the chief medical officer for KBS Research and created the KBMD Health platform to help others better understand health-related topics & solutions. He holds a U.S. patent for the development of a natural bloating supplement called Atrantil. A member of the Digestive Health Associates of Texas and the American College of Gastroenterology. All patient appointment requests and media inquiries can be made by calling the practice at 972-867-0019.