There is a small muscle, called the lower esophageal sphincter (LES), that separates your stomach from the base of your esophagus. Under normal circumstances the LES opens to allow foods and liquids to enter the stomach then closes quickly to prevent stomach acids and foods from re-entering your esophagus. When the valve fails and acid reenters, or refluxes into the esophagus, it causes painful burning commonly called heartburn.
While everyone has occasional heartburn, if you are experiencing symptoms 2-3 times per week, you may actually have GERD, which is a far more serious condition. Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease, GERD, is the chronic failure of the LES. Over time the sensitive lining of the esophagus can become damaged and scarred from the repeated contact with stomach acid.
- Burping or hiccoughing after meals
- Hoarseness or change in voice
- Dental decay, particularly seen in the back molars
- Chest Pain
One key way to avoid heartburn is to avoid foods that can trigger reflux. Everyone may experience different triggers, but these foods are common triggers:
- Fatty, greasy and fried foods
- Citrus drinks (especially orange and grapefruit)
- Tomato products
- Spearmint or peppermint
- Tobacco products
Over-the-counter medications can help control symptoms, but these powerful medications are not designed for long-term use, unless under the supervision of a physician. It is important to seek help from a professional gastroenterologist if you suffer from frequent, repetitive, heartburn. Long-term damage can occur, occasionally leading to a precancerous condition. Ask your doctor to refer you to an AGA specialist to evaluate your heartburn, then make an appointment.