Banner Health Services  

Heartburn could be acid reflux


Dr. Eugene Tharalson is a board-certified gastroenterologist at Banner Estrella Medical Center.

Question: I regularly experience heartburn immediately after I eat, sometimes for long periods of time. Is there anything I can do without having to restrict myself to bland food?

Answer: These symptoms may indicate that you are experiencing acid reflux, a condition in which acid from your stomach backs up into the esophagus.  This can cause irritation to the lining of the esophagus.

This is the most common cause of heartburn symptoms.

It is not uncommon for a person to experience occasional acid reflux.  If you experience it on a regular basis or for greater than five years, you should see your doctor because of the risk of chronic complications.

These complications include erosive esophagitis, a severe breakdown of the lining of the esophagus. Another complication is Barrett’s esophagus, a change in the lining of the esophagus that can put an individual at risk for cancer of the esophagus in the future. This condition is present in 8-10 percent of people with chronic reflux symptoms.

Most people with reflux do not experience these complications. 

Lifestyle modifications are important and include eliminating foods that make your symptoms worse. Many people have problems with caffeine, spicy foods, and citrus. A food diary may help to see what triggers your heartburn. Other recommendations include keeping the upper half of the body elevated at night with a wedge pillow, and not eating or drinking (including water) close to bedtime.

Weight loss can reduce reflux events in overweight patients. Quitting smoking may also help curb the disease without the addition of medication.

Medications are commonly used for reflux disease. These include over the counter preparations such as omeprazole (Prilosec OTC) and ranitidine (Zantac). If you tried these daily for two or three weeks and continue to need them for symptom control, see your doctor to determine if you have a more severe type of reflux, and if you need to be referred for endoscopy.  Antacids such as calcium carbonate (TUMS) or aluminum hydroxide (Mylanta) are useful for infrequent heartburn symptoms, but are not ideal for daily use.

Please remember to see your physician for any kind of chronic acid reflux or reflux symptoms that require medicine for more than two weeks.  See your doctor immediately for trouble swallowing, unintentional weight loss, or vomiting of blood.

Page Last Modified: 02/22/2010
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