For many people, heartburn (medically termed gastroesophageal reflux, GERD, or just ‘reflux’) is an annoyance that can be managed through a change in diet, reduction of stress, or the use of over-the-counter medicines such as omeprazole (e.g., Prilosec) or lansoprazole (e.g., Prevacid). Some people experience chronic cough but don’t realize it can be sign of heartburn.
For others, though, GERD needs to be treated by a doctor before it causes serious problems. Before considering the more serious consequences of not treating GERD, it’s important to be 100% sure that the pain you’re experiencing is in fact heartburn and not the symptoms of a heart attack.
Ruling out a heart attack
Heartburn pain is caused by digestive acid moving up into your esophagus (the tube that carries swallowed food to your stomach). Typically, heartburn causes a burning sensation in your upper abdomen and chest that is accompanied by a sour taste in your mouth. Pain is usually made worse by lying down or bending over, and can typically be relieved by taking an antacid.
If you have chest pain that’s accompanied by pain in the neck, jaw, arms or legs, shortness of breath, weakness, irregular pulse, or sweating, or if you have extreme stomach pain and are experiencing diarrhea or black or bloody bowel movements, call 911 or seek medical attention immediately.
Why it’s important to treat chronic heartburn
Untreated heartburn can be not only painful, affecting your quality of life, but it can also cause erosion and ulcers in the lining of the esophagus.
The scarring and narrowing of the esophagus that can be caused by heartburn can lead to difficulties with swallowing. Less frequently, chronic heartburn can cause Barrett’s esophagus, a precancerous condition that changes the cells that line the esophagus.
The experts at MSA can help
If you have heartburn and use over-the-counter medicines for more than two weeks, or have been taking prescription medication and continue to experience symptoms, make an appointment with the experienced medical staff at Muskegon Surgical Associates. We’ll help determine the best course of treatment to keep your symptoms in check and keep more serious effects of acid reflux to a minimum.