Heartburn

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Heartburn is a burning feeling that occurs in the chest or throat, which usually occurs two to three hours after meals or at night. Chronic heartburn, or heartburn that occurs more than two times a week, may be a sign of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).

WakeMed’s dedicated gastroenterologists provide exceptional care to patients with heartburn, and are experts at determining whether it may be GERD.

What Are the Symptoms and Causes of Heartburn?

Heartburn happens when stomach acid backs up into the esophagus. Symptoms of heartburn include:

  • Burning pain in the chest, more common after eating and at night
  • Bitter taste in the mouth

Alcohol and certain medications can trigger heartburn. Pregnancy can also cause an increase in heartburn symptoms.

Foods that can trigger heartburn in some people include:

  • Spicy foods
  • Fried foods
  • Citrus and tomato products
  • Chocolate
  • Carbonated and caffeinated beverages

Indigestion—which can also cause pain and discomfort in the stomach—is different than heartburn. It’s often tied to eating too quickly or too much, or feeling stressed or anxious.

How Do You Diagnose Heartburn?

If heartburn continues for two weeks or more, you should see your primary care physician or a gastroenterologist.

Our physicians start by taking a detailed patient history and a review of symptoms. Usually, this is enough to diagnose heartburn. Sometimes, we may perform an endoscopy to look at the inside of the esophagus.

If you’re having severe chest pain, especially if combined with difficulty breathing, seek immediate medical help. Chest pain can be a sign of a heart attack.

How Do You Treat Heartburn?

Heartburn can often be treated with both over-the-counter medications, such as antacids (which neutralize stomach acid) and acid reducers (that reduce the acid production itself).

Lifestyle changes can also be helpful, including:

  • Eating small meals
  • Avoiding foods that seem to trigger symptoms
  • Waiting a few hours after eating before laying down
  • Maintaining a healthy weight
  • Wearing loose clothing

If over-the-counter medication and lifestyle changes don’t work, our physicians may recommend prescription medication. They may also do additional screening for GERD and it’s complications, including Barrett’s esophagus.

Occasionally, if GERD symptoms do not improve with medications and/or lifestyle change, surgery may be necessary. This is most common if there is a large hiatal hernia that prevents the lower esophageal sphincter from completely closing. The experienced surgeons at WakeMed may recommend a procedure known as fundoplication to correct the weakness in the esophageal sphincter.

Make an Appointment

If you or someone you care for suspects they might have chronic heartburn, we encourage you to make an appointment with one of WakeMed Cary Hospital's experienced gastroenterologists.