Heartburn Can Lead to Serious Trouble

Heartburn is a symptom of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). Heartburn and acid indigestion are common names for the disease. Occasional reflux of stomach acid into the esophagus can happen to anyone. It is a health concern when it becomes chronic. Years ago it was called “dyspepsia” and was the number one condition that had remedies and treatments advertised for those who suffered with the symptoms.

The causes of heartburn back then are the same as they are now. The Standard American Diet (SAD) is to blame for most occurrences of GERD. High fat foods in large portions cause an overproduction of acid. Being overweight puts a strain at the lower esophageal sphincter (LES) that keeps the stomach contents in the stomach. A weakened LES allows a small amount of the stomach contents to reflux back up into the esophagus. The sensitive tissues of the esophagus feel the burn of the hydrochloric stomach acid.

Effects of heartburn

Although there are some medical conditions that allow GERD to occur that are not associated with a poor diet or being overweight, most suffer the disease because of lifestyle choices. Chronic GERD can lead to a condition in the esophagus called Barrett’s esophagus. The cells in the esophagus change to look like stomach cells instead of esophageal cells due to the continued exposure to stomach acid. Barrett’s esophagus can lead to esophageal cancer in some cases.

The standard heartburn treatments for occasional bouts with symptoms due to overindulgence of food or alcohol is over-the-counter medications such as calcium carbonate or magnesium hydroxide containing lozenges. The little chewable lozenges instantly react with acid in the stomach. Acid is countered when it comes in contact with an alkaline substance. The chemicals components of the lozenges are alkaline and provide temporary relief.

There are also over-the-counter and prescription proton pump inhibitor (PPI) medications available. Whereas a calcium carbonate lozenge treats the acid currently in the stomach, PPIs are absorbed into the bloodstream to directly inhibit the actual pumps in the stomach that make the hydrochloric acid.

Most who take them for chronic GERD experience a rebound of symptoms that are worse than what was being treated if they try to stop taking the medications. The rebound symptoms will resolve in time, but it can be very uncomfortable. A doctor’s advice is needed to resolve rebound GERD when using PPI medications.

Chronic heartburn can lead to serious life-threatening diseases. Attempts to control it through diet and losing weight should be attempted for those do not have other known causes of the disease. In all instances of GERD, a doctor’s advice should be sought.