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Heartburn Can Be a Sign of Serious Disease

Left untreated, acid reflux symptoms can cause throat strictures, cancer, group warns

FRIDAY, Aug. 31 (HealthDay News) -- 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.

Heartburn occurs when stomach contents and gastric acid are regurgitated into the esophagus, the tube that connects the mouth and the stomach.

The college offers the following information about heartburn, along with tips on how to keep it under control:

  • Heartburn can be more than just uncomfortable, it can 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, avoiding tight-fitting clothes, and avoiding heavy lifting/straining are all ways of reducing heartburn. 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.
  • Avoid common heartburn triggers such as smoking, caffeine, chocolate, peppermint, fatty and spicy foods, and tomato sauces.
  • Pregnancy may increase the risk of GERD symptoms.
  • Infrequent heartburn can be controlled with antacids, H2 blockers or proton pump inhibitors.
  • See a doctor if you: have heartburn two or more times a week; don't get lasting relief from medication; have difficulty swallowing, especially solid foods; have choking, wheezing, hoarseness or unexplained weight loss; experience chronic or recurrent GERD symptoms that last for more than a year.

More information

The U.S. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases has more about heartburn and GERD.

-- Robert Preidt

SOURCE: American College of Gastroenterology, news release, August 2007

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