Why You Shouldn’t Ignore Heartburn

Bariatric specialist and medical weight-loss expert, Dr. Mustafa Ahmed, offers state-of-the-art care here at Southern Nevada Bariatrics for issues such as diabetes, chronic heartburn, and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)

Dr. Ahmed suggests you seek medical care for heartburn that occurs more than once a week, does not respond quickly to over-the-counter treatments, or makes it difficult to swallow.

Understanding heartburn

Typically described as a burning sensation in the chest, heartburn is caused by stomach acids flowing upward into the hollow tubular structure (esophagus) that carries food and liquids from your mouth to your stomach.

Heartburn occurs when the lower esophageal sphincter—the band of muscular tissue that typically tightens after you swallow—weakens or relaxes abnormally and allows stomach contents to backflow into the esophagus.

Common heartburn triggers

Heartburn is usually a temporary discomfort that may last from a few minutes to several hours, and it can worsen when you bend over or lie down.

It’s often triggered by:

  • Large or fatty meals
  • Foods containing tomato products
  • Citrus fruits or juices
  • Spicy foods
  • Chocolate
  • Alcoholic or carbonated beverages
  • Coffee, tea, and other caffeinated products
  • High stress levels
  • Wearing tight clothing or belts
  • Certain medications, especially anti-inflammatory drugs or aspirin

Note that pregnancy or excess weight can place pressure on the stomach and force stomach acids upward into the esophagus. This pressure may weaken the lower esophageal sphincter over time.

Why you shouldn’t ignore heartburn

Although occasional heartburn is generally harmless and should respond quickly to over-the-counter medicine, Dr. Ahmed notes that certain symptoms may indicate a more serious condition that requires specialty care.

Frequent or persistent heartburn may indicate and/or cause:

Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)

GERD occurs when stomach acids frequently backwash into the esophagus, which can damage the tissues lining this hollow structure. GERD treatment may include changes in your diet, weight loss, and medication to neutralize or block the formation of stomach acids.

Esophageal stricture

Tissue damage caused by frequent exposure to stomach acid can lead to scarring and may eventually cause narrowing of the esophagus (esophageal stricture).

To relieve moderate to severe stricture, you may require esophageal dilation. During this procedure, your specialist uses a balloon or other medical device to dilate or stretch the narrowed esophagus so that food and liquid can pass through to the stomach.

Barrett’s esophagus

Barrett’s esophagus is often related to the corrosive stomach acids that flow into your esophagus when you have untreated or undertreated GERD. 

This causes inflammation (esophagitis) and other changes to the esophageal tissue that can increase your risk of developing esophageal cancer. Barrett’s esophagus requires routine monitoring with imaging studies and tissue biopsies to check for precancerous cells.

For more information about the dangers of ignoring frequent heartburn as well as the treatments we offer for GERD and other weight-related issues, schedule an evaluation with Dr. Ahmed at our office in Las Vegas.

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