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How to Talk to Your Doctor About Your Acid Reflux Symptoms

Maybe it happens when you eat too close to bedtime, have a big glass of grapefruit juice or overdo it on fish and chips. You get heartburn or acid reflux. If it happens more than once in a while, you’ll want to talk to your doctor about your symptoms.

What should you say, exactly? Could you have gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)? How do you have this conversation with your provider?

“Heartburn can be a sign of a more severe condition. It can progress to Barrett’s esophagus, which is a condition that, in some cases, could progress further to esophageal cancer. So you should take symptoms seriously and address them,” said Wahid Wassef, MD, a gastroenterologist with Banner – University Medicine.

Dr. Wassef explained how you can best discuss your symptoms with your provider, so you make your concerns clear and get the care you need.

Share the symptoms you’re experiencing

Along with heartburn, other symptoms could be signs of GERD. Be sure to tell your provider if you’ve noticed: 

  • Regurgitation or stomach contents reaching your throat or mouth.
  • Difficulty swallowing or a sensation of food getting stuck in your throat, called dysphagia. 
  • Chest pain – since the pain of GERD can feel like a heart attack, get medical care right away if you have chest pain.
  • A persistent cough that’s not related to respiratory issues and isn’t getting better.
  • A hoarse voice, especially in the morning.
  • Bad breath in the morning.
  • Nausea or vomiting.

It’s a good idea to keep a journal (on paper or electronically) where you note when and how often you have symptoms, how bad they are and how long they last. Track your meals, stress and anything else you think might be triggering symptoms. 

“Make a list of foods and drinks that make the symptoms better or worse,” Dr. Wassef said. “And write down any body positions that make symptoms worse, like stooping down when you’re working in your yard.” 

Be open with your provider about any lifestyle habits you think might make your symptoms better or worse and share any over-the-counter (OTC) treatments you’ve tried and what effect they’ve had on your symptoms.

Bring a list of your questions

It’s helpful to write down the questions you want to ask your provider. That way, you can be sure you don’t forget anything. You may want to ask:

  • How can I reduce my symptoms?
  • What lifestyle changes or medications can I try?
  • What foods should I add to my diet – or avoid?
  • How can GERD impact my health?
  • How can I keep symptoms under control in the long run?

Be prepared to share information  

You’ll want to tell your provider about:

  • Any digestive issues you’ve had and what types of treatments you’ve tried. 
  • Prescription or OTC medications or supplements you’re taking, whether they are for heartburn symptoms or other conditions.
  • Your diet, eating patterns and any lifestyle habits that could impact your symptoms, including whether you notice symptoms after eating certain foods or overeating.
  • Any links you’ve noticed between your stress levels and your symptoms.
  • Your sleep patterns.
  • What type of physical activities you do.

When you’re talking to your doctor, use clear, straightforward language. “Explain the symptoms in your own words, without using medical language or trying to diagnose your condition,” Dr. Wassef said. 

Share whether your symptoms feel mild, moderate or severe and whether you have them every day, every week or occasionally. Explain how they affect your daily activities, sleep or well-being.

What to expect if you have GERD  

To diagnose GERD, your provider may recommend tests such as:

  • Upper endoscopy, where they use a small camera to look at the esophagus for signs of inflammation or damage. 
  • Esophageal pH monitoring, which measures the acid levels in your esophagus. 
  • Manometry, which checks the connection between your stomach and esophagus (lower esophageal sphincter). 

Your health care team will help you stay as comfortable as possible during these tests. The benefits you get from the tests’ information should outweigh any short-term discomfort.

Once your provider diagnoses GERD, they may talk to you about the pros and cons of treatment options such as:

  • Changing your diet.
  • Getting regular physical activity.
  • Managing stress with mindfulness, yoga, meditation or deep breathing.
  • Losing weight or maintaining a healthy body weight. “Weight loss is a great way to decrease reflux and slow or stop the disease’s progression,” Dr. Wassef said.
  • Eating your last meal at least four hours before bedtime.
  • Elevating the head of your bed by at least 30 degrees.
  • Taking OTC or prescription medications to control acid levels and symptoms.
  • In severe cases, surgery.  

Share your preferences and concerns with your provider and ask for clarification about anything that isn’t clear to you. You want to find a treatment plan that works for your needs and lifestyle.

What happens next? 

Your provider will probably want to talk to you to see how your treatment plan is working and make any needed changes. At your follow-up appointments, share any changes in your symptoms, side effects or concerns. Let your provider know if you have any new symptoms or changes in your overall health.

The bottom line

If you have heartburn or acid reflux symptoms more than occasionally, you should talk to a provider. By sharing your symptoms, noting what makes them better or worse and bringing in a list of your questions, you can get a diagnosis and create a treatment plan.

If you’d like to connect with care for heartburn, acid reflux or GERD, reach out to an expert at Banner Health.

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