Is Heartburn the Same as GERD?

March 27, 2024

Have you found yourself experiencing discomfort after indulging in your favorite foods lately? Perhaps you’ve noticed bloating or a warm sensation creeping up your esophagus after a night out with friends. If so, you might be grappling with heartburn or gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).

What is Heartburn?

Heartburn and GERD often share similar symptoms related to eating habits, food choices, or medication intake. Heartburn, scientifically termed gastroesophageal reflux (GER), occurs when the lower esophageal sphincter (LES) – the muscle band at the end of the esophagus – fails to close properly. Consequently, stomach acid and other contents flow backward into the esophagus, causing irritation. Unlike the stomach, which boasts a protective mucous lining, the esophagus lacks this safeguard, leading to the burning sensation commonly associated with heartburn. The discomfort often radiates to the chest area, hence the colloquial term “heartburn.”

A variety of medications and supplements can aggravate the esophagus, exacerbating reflux symptoms. These potential irritants include antibiotics, iron supplements, ibuprofen, and certain antidepressants, among others.

What is GERD?

While occasional heartburn may be manageable, GERD represents a chronic manifestation of the condition, occurring more than twice weekly. Signs of GERD include recurrent heartburn episodes, difficulty swallowing (dysphagia), bloating, upper abdominal or chest pain, and nausea, among others. Nighttime reflux can result in a persistent dry cough, worsening asthma symptoms, or laryngitis due to vocal cord inflammation.

How Can I Adjust My Diet and Lifestyle to Manage Reflux?

Managing reflux can be a challenging endeavor, often necessitating dietary and lifestyle adjustments. By identifying and avoiding trigger foods, individuals can alleviate discomfort and mitigate symptom severity. Common culprits include alcohol, spicy foods, caffeine, and acidic or fatty fare. Portion control and timing of meals also play pivotal roles in symptom management, as does maintaining an upright posture after eating.

Tips to Ease Your Reflux Symptoms:

  1. Lose weight: The best thing you can do to alleviate symptoms, if applicable, is to lose weight because extra weight puts excess pressure on the stomach adding to reflux issues. GERD symptoms have been known to resolve after the loss of 10-15 pounds.
  2. Wear loose clothing: Avoiding constriction of the waist due to pressure on the stomach from tight-fitting clothes can help alleviate reflux.
  3. Reduce Stress: Exercise/walk/meditate
  4. Stop Smoking: Tobacco products contain chemicals that weaken the LES.
  5. Sleep with your head raised about six inches- Placing blocks under the legs of the head of your bed or using a wedge-shaped pillow under your mattress will elevate your head above your stomach helping prevent digested food from backing up into your esophagus. Simply using extra pillows is not the best solution because your torso will not lay flat causing increased pressure on your stomach and LES.

If the previous remedies do not provide sufficient relief, these over-the-counter medicines may help:

  • Antacids, like Maalox, Mylanta, or Tums help neutralize stomach acid.
  • H2 blockers, like Pepcid AC, Tagamet HB, and Axid AR reduce stomach acid production.
  • Proton pump inhibitors, like Prilosec OTC (omeprazole), Prevacid 24 HR, Nexium 24 HR, and Zegerid OTC stop nearly all stomach acid production.

study in 2010 concluded that melatonin and omeprazole can be used together for a short time to help alleviate the symptoms of GERD. Consult with your doctor for assistance.

When to Seek Medical Attention

While self-care measures may offer temporary relief, persistent or worsening symptoms warrant medical evaluation. Untreated GERD can lead to complications such as esophageal ulcers, strictures, or Barrett’s esophagus – a precancerous condition.

If you’re experiencing persistent heartburn, seek prompt and professional care at AFC Urgent Care Athens to prevent potential complications in the future!

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