If you’re like most Americans, you’ve probably had heartburn at least once in your life. If, however, you have been experiencing it more than twice a week, it’s possible that you have Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD), a more serious chronic condition.
Heartburn occurs when the valve between your esophagus and your stomach weakens and the acid in your stomach enters the esophagus, or refluxes. It causes a burning sensation, a taste of bile in the mouth, and maybe sharp pain in your chest. If this is indicative of GERD, though, the constant acid in your esophagus can cause several problems, including tooth decay, ulcers, Barrett’s esophagus, and even esophageal cancer.
If you find yourself with mild symptoms, you can usually treat yourself. First, change your lifestyle. Eat smaller meals, don’t eat at least two hours before bedtime, avoid fatty and spicy foods, avoid alcohol and caffeine, and quit smoking. For many people, losing weight will put less pressure on the esophagus and symptoms can disappear completely. In addition to making lifestyle changes, you can also take over-the-counter antacids, H2 blockers, or proton pump inhibitors, but these should be used as a last resort.
If your symptoms continue or are more severe than “mild,” you should speak to your physician about more advanced treatment options to resolve your GERD.