When Does Persistent Heartburn Become A Bigger Issue?

Heartburn is caused by acid backing up into the esophagus from the stomach, leading to pain or burning in the chest. Many things including eating spicy or acidic foods, being overweight and pregnancy are all common contributing factors to heartburn. Heartburn is typically worsened after eating, when lying down or bending over as it forces more acid out of the stomach and into the esophagus. Heartburn is considered persistent when you need to use over the counter medications more than twice a week. It’s very easy to reach for those medications for relief from this discomfort, and you may think, “It’s just heartburn.” But when is it dangerous to continually treat the symptoms of heartburn without knowing the cause?

Persistent heartburn can damage the esophagus and lead to trouble swallowing due to narrowing of the esophagus. This condition is called Barrett’s Esophagus and can lead to esophageal cancer. Due to the fact that the symptoms of heartburn are so easily treated without having to see a doctor, these more serious conditions can go unnoticed for some time, but treating the symptoms does not always fix the cause and can be damaging. Esophageal cancer is very treatable when found early and may be preventable when warning signs are noticed and treated.

If you have persistent or chronic heartburn, nausea or vomiting, trouble swallowing food or medicines, or if your heartburn symptoms are not controlled by OTC medications it may be time to discuss these symptoms with your doctor. Your doctor may suggest the use of non-pharmaceutical methods such as sleeping with the head of your bed elevated, weight loss or the use of prescription medications to control acid production. If symptoms persist following treatment, you may be referred to a gastroenterologist for further evaluation. Minimally invasive tests may be used to evaluate the esophagus and see if any damage has been caused.

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