Fruits and Vegetables

Heartburn: Causes, Effects, and Treatments

Most people have experienced occasional heartburn, especially after eating a big meal or spicy foods. The feeling of a burning sensation in the chest, discomforting indigestion, and a generally upset stomach are all symptoms of this condition. The terms “reflux” or “GERD” (Gastro-Esophageal Reflux Disease) have been widely used to describe the most common cause of heartburn. Reflux often occurs when the lower valve of the esophagus or food tube inappropriately relaxes and allows stomach acids to ascend upwards into this elongated chamber. In some people, the acid material may project all the way up the esophagus and through the upper valve directly into the throat.

When this happens, the acid contents can cause the following:

  1. Burning sensations in the throat
  2. Episodic coughing especially when laying down
  3. Difficulty sleeping because of nighttime indigestion
  4. Mild trouble swallowing because of a foreign body sensation in the throat
  5. Laryngitis

Diagram of the StomachInterestingly, reflux disease, allergies, and asthma often coexist in many individuals. If you suffer with frequent symptoms of reflux, it is generally advisable to make an appointment with a physician who may conduct and order various examinations to determine the cause and the most effective treatment regimen for the problem.

Necessary Paths to Discovering the Problem:

  • Clinical examination of mouth to determine presence of acid irritation.
  • Scoping of throat and voice box to visualize possible effects of acid irritation.
  • Scoping of esophagus, either in the office or operating room setting to evaluate tissue lining appearances and to rule out presence of growths or other abnormalities.
  • Scoping of esophagus, stomach, and duodenum for similar reasons as above.
  • Barium swallow studies using X-ray motion picture photography to evaluate oral, throat, and esophageal functions during swallowing activities.

Treatments for Heartburn Depend on Test Results:

  1. Diet modifications are very helpful most of the time.
  2. Nothing to eat or drink, not even water, within two hours of bedtime.
  3. Avoidance of spicy foods, chocolates, caffeine, citrus drinks and fruits, and tobacco products.
  4. If indicated, weight loss is essential to long-term symptom improvements.
  5. Mild elevation of the head of the bed, or use of multiple pillows may be helpful.
  6. Medications may be prescribed, including over the counter antacids, Proton Pump Inhibitors like Nexium or Prilosec, or H2 Blockers like Zantac.
  7. Less commonly, certain surgical procedures may be required for those individuals who either fail to improve with conservative treatments, or whose test results revealed specific conditions that will not respond to medical therapy alone.
  8. With coexisting allergies and/or asthma, effective medical management of these conditions often facilitates the treatment plan for reflux.

Words to the wise:

If you or your child are experiencing recurring symptoms of heartburn and possibly laryngitis, and if you also have a history of allergies or asthma that increase your risk factor for reflux disease, do not hesitate to schedule an appointment with your DMC Medical Group physician.

People Eating a Meal

Drs. Valenti and Stern practice out of the Harper professional Office Building, Suite 1007. Appointments can be made to see them collectively by calling: 313-966-9471. Office hours are from 9:00 to 5:00 M-F.