Heartburn Center Patient Education
- Achalasia – the degeneration of the nerves in your esophagus. This causes failure of the esophagus to move food and liquids into your stomach. It also causes the sphincter between your esophagus and stomach to tighten, as it fails to relax.
- Barrett’s Esophagus – a condition in which the lining of the esophagus is replaced with tissue similar to the stomach lining. Barrett’s esophagus is often the result of long-standing gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) and can sometimes lead to esophageal cancer. It requires long-term surveillance with the possibility of surgery to reduce reflux.
- Esophageal Cancer – can occur in any part of the esophagus and spread to your lymph nodes, windpipe, large blood vessels in the chest and nearby organs.
- Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD) – a chronic digestive disorder in which your stomach acid flows back into your esophagus, causing heartburn and irritation in the lining of the esophagus. Up to 40 percent of the U.S. population experiences GERD, and about 30 percent of GERD patients do not respond to standard dose proton pump inhibitor medications. Surgery can tighten the junction between your stomach and esophagus to lessen the backflow of acid.
- Heartburn – refers to a burning pain usually located behind your sternum. This can worsen after eating or when you bend or lie down.
- Hiatal Hernia – a weakness in your diaphragm causing the abdominal contents to move upward into the chest cavity. Surgery aims to repair the defect in the diaphragm.
- Obesity-related heartburn/acid reflux – caused by being overweight.
Many people experience occasional heartburn, but if your discomfort occurs frequently or interferes with your daily activities, you should be seen by a physician. If you are experiencing symptoms or have been taking antacids daily for more than eight weeks, we recommend you have diagnostic testing and evaluation.
If your heartburn is severe and accompanied by chest pressure, nausea or lightheadedness, please seek immediate help or call 911. Symptoms of heartburn can sometimes mimic a heart attack.
Antacid Medication (PPIs): Fact vs. Fiction
Today, there are many heartburn medications on the market, from over-the-counter antacids to H-2-receptor antagonists and proton pump inhibitors. Long-term use of medication, however, may not be the best solution. These drugs sometimes can mask the symptoms of heartburn and make you feel better, but they might not be treating the cause and could lead to chronic damage, including esophageal cancer.
In addition, PPIs may be associated with osteoporosis, bone fracture, hypomagnesemia and pneumonia. We can help you determine if antacid medications are the best option for you.
Complications of Heartburn
If left untreated, heartburn can become more serious, resulting in one or more of these conditions.
- Dysphagia (difficulty swallowing)
- Chronic reflux damage
- Side affects from long-term medication use
- Adult onset asthma
- Aspiration leading to pneumonia
- Barrett’s esophagus
- Esophageal cancer