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Is it heartburn, acid reflux or something more? - Brandview - 08/31/2016

Heartburn: that unpleasant burning in your chest after overeating. You begin to regret that extra steak sauce at dinner and resolve to eat better in the future. But in the weeks that follow, you still experience symptoms of heartburn despite your efforts to eat healthier foods.

As time goes on, you might even start to feel burning in your esophagus. You finally decide that this once minor annoyance is becoming something, well, major. What should you do?

For most people, heartburn happens on occasion but isn’t usually cause for alarm. You might not like heartburn, but it’s usually nothing a few Tums after dinner can’t cure. However, when heartburn becomes more frequent and starts to affect your overall lifestyle, it could signify a more serious issue, such as reflux disease.

The term “acid reflux” simply describes a backflow of stomach acid into the esophagus. This backflow happens on occasion when people eat overly large and acidic meals or certain foods that loosen the esophagus. On the other hand, reflux disease is a diagnosable condition that has serious consequences if left untreated.

To help you determine whether you’re experiencing simple heartburn or something more serious, KSL and Ogden Clinic offer some answers. Below you’ll find a Q&A with an experienced gastroenterologist to answer common concerns regarding reflux disease, its causes, symptoms and treatments. Read on to learn more about reflux disease from Ogden Clinic's Dr. Joshua Vandersteen.

Q: What is reflux disease?

A: First, we must define what reflux is. Reflux is when stomach contents enter the esophagus. Reflux disease occurs when this reflux happens persistently and becomes more painful. We also diagnose reflux disease when there’s evidence of damage to the esophagus, vocal cords or other adjacent structures.

Q: What are the symptoms?

A: The most common symptom of reflux disease is heartburn, which is a pain or burning sensation in the chest. Other symptoms include regurgitation of partially digested food, difficulty swallowing and chest pain. Less typical symptoms are a hoarse voice, chronic cough or shortness of breath.

Q: Does heartburn always mean reflux disease?

A: Heartburn is one symptom of reflux, but we can all get heartburn from time to time. It’s when it becomes more persistent or painful that it’s considered actual reflux disease.

Q: Why does it occur?

A: A small ring of muscle at the base of the esophagus (called a sphincter) functions to prevent acidic contents from refluxing back into the esophagus. This sphincter may become weakened, leading to reflux. Additionally, certain foods may relax the sphincter when ingested.

Q: What factors contribute to this disease?

A: Consuming foods such as citrus, mint, caffeine, chocolate and spicy foods are known to cause reflux. Reflux disease also increases with age. Other factors include abdominal obesity and pregnancy.

Q: How is reflux disease treated?

A: Treatment includes different lifestyle modifications, such as dietary changes and several pharmacological options. Avoid lying down until two hours after eating, keeping your head propped up. Diet changes aim at avoiding acidic foods that trigger reflux. Caffeine and alcohol should also be avoided.

As for medications, some help to treat symptoms and others prevent symptoms from occurring. The list of medications that treat reflux is lengthy but includes over-the-counter as well as prescription options.

With these questions and answers in mind, assess your heartburn. Does it happen frequently and cause you pain or trouble eating and digesting food? If your heartburn has become more than an occasional problem, contact Ogden Clinic to set up an appointment with a gastroenterologist today.