Heartburn and Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD)
- Heartburn facts
- What are the symptoms of heartburn?
- What causes heartburn?
- Dietary causes of heartburn
- Lifestyle causes of heartburn
- Medical causes of heartburn
- What is the treatment for heartburn?
- Tips to alleviate heartburn symptoms
- OTC heartburn treatments
- Prescription heartburn treatments
- When is heartburn surgery necessary?
- Find a local Doctor in your town
Despite its name, heartburn has nothing to do with the heart (although some of the symptoms are similar to a heart attack). Heartburn is an irritation of the esophagus caused by acid that refluxes (comes up) from the stomach. Heartburn is also a symptom of more serious gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD.
When swallowing, food passes down the throat and through the esophagus to the stomach. Normally, a muscular valve called the lower esophageal sphincter (LES) opens to allow food into the stomach (or to permit belching); then it closes again. Then the stomach releases strong acids to help break down the food. But if the lower esophageal sphincter opens too often or does not close tight enough, stomach acid can reflux or seep back into the esophagus, damaging it and causing the burning sensation we know as heartburn.
Most people have felt heartburn at one time or another. In fact, the American Gastroenterological Association reports that more than 60 million Americans experience heartburn/GERD symptoms at least once each month. Though uncomfortable, heartburn does not usually pose a serious health problem for most people.
However, if heartburn symptoms occur frequently and persistently, it may be a sign of a more serious problem, such as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). GERD is a chronic reflux of acid into the esophagus. Left untreated, GERD can cause a host of complications, including esophagitis, esophageal ulcers, hoarseness, chronic pulmonary disease, and Barrett's esophagus (a change in the lining of the esophagus that increases the risk of developing cancer of the esophagus).
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