More than 60 million Americans experience heartburn once a month, and more than 15 million suffer heartburn every day, according to the American College of Gastroenterology (ACG), which hopes to better educate the public on this widespread ailment.
Heartburn occurs when excessive amounts of stomach acid reflux into the esophagus, according to the ACG.
The college offers the following information about heartburn:
Besides being uncomfortable, heartburn can also be a sign of a serious problem called gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). Symptoms of GERD include burning chest pain, regurgitation of bitter or sour liquid, difficulty swallowing, and excessive clearing of the throat.
Left untreated, persistent heartburn/GERD symptoms can lead to severe complications such as esophageal strictures or a precancerous condition called Barrett's Esophagus. In rare cases, people with persistent heartburn/GERD develop esophageal cancer. Eating smaller meals, controlling your weight and avoiding tight-fitting clothes are all ways of reducing heartburn symptoms. Don't lie down after meals, because that makes it easier for stomach contents (including acid) to back up into the esophagus. Do not eat for three to four hours before you go to bed.
Common heartburn triggers include: smoking, caffeine, chocolate, peppermint, fatty and spicy foods, and tomato sauces.
Pregnancy increases the risk of heartburn/GERD symptoms. That's because pregnancy puts greater pressure on the stomach and causes increased production of the hormone progesterone, which relaxes the lower esophageal sphincter muscle, which can allow more acid to reflux into the esophagus.
See a doctor if you: have heartburn two or more times a week; don't get lasting relief from medication; have difficulty swallowing; have unexplained weight loss; experience reflux symptoms lasting more than a year.
The American Academy of Family Physicians has more about heartburn.
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