Many people experience occasional heartburn or acid reflux. This happens when acid from your stomach escapes and moves into the esophagus. It can occur after a large meal, when eating spicy or fried foods, and very often in the evening while lying in bed. Occasional heartburn or acid reflux is normal; however, you could be experiencing symptoms of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). Here are a few things to consider before you reach for your over-the-counter medicine.
Does your heartburn or acid reflux occur more than once a week?
The burning sensation, caused by acid in your esophagus, can irritate the lining of your esophagus and, with repeated exposure, cause severe damage.
Is your heartburn or acid reflux preventing sleep?
Your esophagus is connected to your stomach with a set of muscles called the lower esophageal sphincter (LES). These muscles are responsible for keeping the contents of the stomach out of the esophagus. When you are upright, gravity helps keep contents in your stomach, but when you lay down, reflux may occur.
Do you have a recurring sore-throat and/or cough?
Sometimes stomach acid will reflux through the esophagus and into the throat and mouth. This can cause irritation to the lining of your throat, often causing you to feel like you must clear your throat and/or cough. In some cases, people may wake up during the night with retching and choking from acid and food which has passed up through the esophagus.
Do you have asthma attacks during or following a meal?
Asthma and GERD often go hand in hand with an estimated three-fourths of those with asthma also having GERD. You should talk to your doctor about the possibility of GERD if your asthma symptoms began after childhood, if they get worse following a large meal, after exercise, while consuming alcohol, or if your regular asthma medications are not working well during asthma attacks following meals.
Are you taking over-the-counter medications often?
Over-the-counter medications are there to provide you with temporary relief of occasional symptoms. They do not treat the cause; therefore, the heartburn or acid reflux will keep coming back. If you find that you need them daily for more than two weeks or that you are using them more than once a week, it is time to speak with your doctor about the cause of your heartburn.
Ceciel T. Rooker, President, IFFGD, [email protected]