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      Don't ignore chronic heartburn, acid reflux or GERD

      Heartburn – that burning sensation in your chest, neck and/or throat – is common, especially after consuming certain foods and drinks. But chronic heartburn isn’t something to ignore, as it can produce serious complications if left untreated.

      More than 25 million American adults experience daily heartburn, which is caused by stomach acid flowing in the esophagus (the tube connecting the throat to the stomach). When heartburn occurs regularly, stomach acid irritates the esophageal lining and can cause more medical problems. Serious or frequent heartburn is known as gastroesophageal reflux (GERD).

      What are the symptoms?

      The frequent burning associated with heartburn is the most common symptom. Individuals may also experience the following sensations in their mouth or throat:

      1. A sour or bitter taste
      2. Hoarseness
      3. The feeling of needing to clear the throat
      4. Difficulty swallowing food or liquid
      5. Wheezing or coughing

      These symptoms most often occur after eating, during sleep, and/or when bending over or lying down. Certain foods and beverages – fatty foods, chocolate, peppermint, coffee and alcoholic beverages – can slow digestion, leaving behind more material in the stomach and increasing the chances for reflux. Obesity and smoking are two risk factors for chronic heartburn and GERD.

      What should I do?

      Complications from GERD include ulcers and bleeding. Continued irritation of the esophagus may make swallowing foods and liquids more difficult. Barrett’s esophagus, a serious change in the lining of the esophagus, may also develop and is a precursor to esophageal cancer in some patients.

      Talk to your doctor if you regularly experience heartburn (two or more times a week), if food often gets stuck in your throat when eating, or if you’ve experienced bleeding or weight loss. He or she may refer you for further testing, such as an X-ray of the esophagus and stomach. An endoscopy may be ordered to more closely examine the esophagus and stomach for tissue damage and possible biopsy.

      Lifestyle and diet changes can help with GERD symptoms. Patients are most often recommended to:

      1. Try to stop eating two to three hours before bedtime.
      2. Quit smoking.
      3. Avoid certain foods and drinks – greasy or spicy foods, milk, chocolate, peppermint, caffeine, citrus fruits and juices, tomato products, pepper seasoning and alcohol (especially red wine).
      4. Elevate bed or mattress 6 to 8 inches to help keep acid in the stomach.

      Medications and surgery to treat GERD can also be recommended in more serious cases. If you have questions or concerns about heartburn or are experiencing regular symptoms, call us at 815-397-7340 to make an appointment.