When Should I Worry About...

Is it Heartburn or Something More?

March 9, 2020

Do you get heartburn after eating, bending over or lying down? Maybe you feel a painful burning sensation in your chest. Or you taste food or acid in your throat.

Most people occasionally experience heartburn — and, a lot of the time, we know it's coming. (Trust me, no one's judging you for eating that fourth hot dog at last night's baseball game.)

But, if you have heartburn more than twice a week, you may have gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD.

"The stomach is meant to have acid, but the esophagus is not," says Dr. Arturo Bravo, gastroenterologist at Houston Methodist. "There's a gatekeeper mechanism that keeps the stomach acid out of the esophagus, but it isn't perfect."

GERD occurs after the mechanism at the end of the esophagus fails and allows stomach acid to flow back up into the esophagus (aka reflux). This acid irritates the esophagus lining, causing a burning sensation — which eventually damages the esophagus.

How to get relief from chronic heartburn

GERD treatments vary, depending on your symptoms and severity. Dr. Bravo recommends lifestyle changes, including:

  • Stopping smoking
  • Drinking less alcohol
  • Losing weight if you're overweight
  • Eating smaller and more frequent meals
  • Avoiding fatty meals
  • Wearing comfortable, loose clothing
  • Avoiding eating less than three hours before bedtime

GERD is a mechanical problem. While medications and lifestyle changes may control symptoms, they can't fix it. Minimally invasive surgical procedures can help the gatekeeper mechanism to become more effective in more severe cases.

Need care now?

Houston Methodist Virtual Urgent Care offers on-demand video visits from wherever you are, no appointment needed. Our board-certified providers are available 24/7 to address many common health issues.

Start a video visit >

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Categories: When Should I Worry About...