Don't ignore heartburn symptoms. Learn more.
Naperville Sun/Aurora Beacon-News HealthAware column:
Don’t ignore frequent symptoms of heartburn
June 25, 2013
You’ve been getting heartburn a few times a week, and popping over-the counter antacids with little relief. Should you be worried?
Dr. George Morgan, a board certified gastroenterologist with Midwest Digestive Health, answers that and other common questions about heartburn and its more dangerous cousin, GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease):
When should I suspect my heartburn is something more serious?
“Anyone can have occasional heartburn from eating or drinking too much, or consuming foods that just don’t agree with them. But, if you’re having heartburn more than one or two times a week, you may have GERD. In this condition, the stomach contents flow back into the esophagus because the valve between the esophagus and stomach isn’t closing properly.”
Are there other signs of GERD, besides heartburn?
“GERD sufferers also may have one or more of the following symptoms:
A bitter taste in the mouth
Regurgitation of sour liquid or food
Feeling there’s a lump in the throat”
Why is being aware of GERD important?
“GERD is becoming increasingly common, due in part to our aging population and growing rates of obesity. It can lead to complications, including a narrowing of the esophagus and a pre-cancerous condition called Barrett’s esophagus. Esophageal cancer is also on the rise.”
Will diagnosis of GERD require testing?
“We can usually diagnose GERD during an office visit. In some cases, though, an upper gastrointestinal X-ray or a gastroscopy will be needed. In gastroscopy, we pass a narrow tube fitted with a camera through the throat and down to the stomach.
This provides a view of the esophagus, stomach and part of the small intestine, and we can take biopsies if necessary. This test may be indicated if a patient isn’t responding to medication or if they’re over 50, and we want to rule out other conditions. Certain red flags, such as unexplained weight loss or difficulty swallowing, are also taken into account.”
What treatments for GERD are available?
“Treatment usually includes lifestyle modifications and medication to reduce the production of stomach acid. This might involve an H2 blocker, such as Pepcid or Tagamet, or the more powerful option, a PPI, such as Prilosec or Nexium. Lifestyle changes that can help include losing weight, cutting back on alcohol and avoidance of overeating, especially close to bedtime. We also advise patients to steer clear of common triggers of heartburn, such as fatty and spicy foods, caffeine and chocolate.
A surgery called fundoplication may be indicated in certain circumstances, such as when there’s a large hiatal hernia. This surgery involves wrapping stomach tissue around the end of the esophagus to block the return of acid. Others are candidates for this operation if they can’t tolerate the medications, or if they aren’t responding to overall medical management. And some patients just prefer the option of surgery over the alternatives.
The most important thing to remember about GERD is that early treatment can minimize its impact and often prevent complications.
For more information, call the Edward Endoscopy Lab at 630-527-3543.
Naperville, Illinois (IL) - Edward Hospital and Health Services