Nearly 20 percent of Americans suffer heartburn each week. This chronic condition is known as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).
Many of us know what heartburn feels like — that searing sensation from the breastbone to the throat, sometimes with an acid taste.
Along with the burn, people may have less-common symptoms like non-cardiac chest pain, coughing or choking while lying down, asthma, or recurrent sinus or ear infections.
Heartburn occurs when stomach contents back up into the esophagus after you’ve eaten.
GERD can be traced to a malfunction in the valve separating the esophagus and stomach. When it’s working well, this valve prevents acids from flushing up into the esophagus and causing that burning feeling in the back of your throat.
The following lifestyle factors also may contribute to GERD:
- Being overweight
- Consuming fatty or spicy foods, citrus, chocolate or other triggers
- Use of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory (NSAIDs) drugs, such as aspirin and ibuprofen
GERD isn’t just a nuisance. Left untreated, it can become chronic and severe — and that may raise the risk for a condition called Barrett’s esophagus, which can progress to a type of esophageal cancer (adenocarcinoma). If you think you have GERD, see your doctor. The gastroenterologists at Lehigh Valley Health Network’s Center for Digestive Disorders can help.
In many cases, heartburn can be relieved through diet and lifestyle changes, such as stopping smoking and losing weight.