Heartburn & Acid Reflux Symptoms,
Treatment Options & Heartburn Cures
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Almost everyone has heartburn or reflux occasionally. Heartburn is a painful burning sensation in your upper chest or throat. It happens when stomach acid backs up into your esophagus, the tube that carries food from your mouth to your stomach.
If you get heartburn symptoms more than 2 or 3 times a week, you may have gastroesophageal acid reflux disease (aka GERD). With chronic acid reflux the muscles at the end of your esophagus do not close as tightly as they should. This allows contents of the stomach to back up, or reflux, into the esophagus and irritate it, causing a burning sensation in the area.
Pregnancy, certain foods, alcohol and some medications can bring on heartburn. Treating heartburn is important because over time reflux can damage the esophagus. Over-the-counter medicines may help. If the heartburn continues, you may need prescription drugs or surgery.
If you have other symptoms such as crushing chest pain, it could be a heart attack. Get help immediately.
Questions to Ask your Doctor about Frequent Heartburn
You have gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). This condition causes food or stomach acid to come back up from your stomach into your esophagus. This is known as acid reflux. It can cause heartburn and other symptoms.
Below are some questions you should ask your doctor or nurse to help you take care of your heartburn and reflux.
- If I have heartburn, can I treat myself or should I need the doctor?
- What foods will make my heartburn worse?
- How can I change the way I eat to help my heartburn?
- How long should I wait after eating before lying down?
- How long should I wait after eating before exercising?
- Will losing weight help my symptoms?
- Do cigarettes, caffeine and alcohol make my heartburn condition worse?
- What changes should I make in my bed, if I have nighttime heartburn?
- What medicines will help my heartburn?
- Will antacids help my heartburn?
- Are there other drugs or medicines which can help my symptoms?
- Do I need a prescription to buy them?
- Do they have any side effects?
Can I have a More Serious Problem than Frequent Heartburn?
- When should I call the doctor?
- What other tests or procedures do I need if my heartburn does not go away?
Are there surgeries that help with heartburn and reflux?
- How are the surgeries done? What are the risks?
- How well do the surgeries work? Will I still need to take medicine for my reflux after surgery? Will I ever need to have surgery again for the reflux?
Alternate Names for Heartburn
What to ask your doctor about heartburn and reflux; Acid Reflux - what to ask your doctor; GERD - what to ask your doctor; Gastroesophageal reflux disease - what to ask your doctor
Do Antacids Help Relieve Heartburn?
Antacids help to treat heartburn (indigestion). They work by changing the stomach acid that causes your heartburn.
You can buy many antacids without a prescription. Liquid forms work faster but you may like tablets because they are easy to use.
All antacids work equally as well, but they can cause different side effects. If you use antacids often and have problems with side effects, talk with your doctor.
When to Use Antacids
Antacids are a good treatment for heartburn that does not happen very often. Take antacids about 1 hour after eating or at the time heartburn usually happens after you eat. If you are taking them for symptoms at night, do NOT take them with food.
Antacids cannot treat more serious problems, such as appendicitis, a stomach ulcer, gallstones, or bowel problems. Talk to your doctor if you have:
- Pain or symptoms that do not get better with antacids
- Symptoms every day or at night
- Nausea and vomiting
- Bleeding in your bowel movements or darkened bowel movements
- Bloating or cramping
- Pain in your lower belly, on your side, or in your back
- Diarrhea that is severe or does not go away
- Fever with your belly pain
- Chest pain or shortness of breath
Call your doctor if you need to use antacids more often than not.
Side Effects of Antacids
You may have side effects from taking these medicines. Antacids are made with basic ingredients. If you have problems, try another brand.
- Brands with magnesium may cause diarrhea.
- Brands with calcium or aluminum may cause constipation.
- Rarely, brands with calcium may cause kidney stones or other problems.
- If you take large amounts of antacids that contain aluminum, you may be at risk for calcium loss, which can lead to weak bones (osteoporosis).
Antacids can change the way your body absorbs the other medicines you are taking. It is best to take any other medicine either 1 hour before or 1 hour after you take antacids.
Talk to your doctor or pharmacist before taking antacids on a regular basis if:
- You have kidney disease, high blood pressure, or heart disease.
- You are on a low-sodium diet.
- You are already taking calcium.
- You are taking other medicines every day.
- You have had kidney stones.
Stomach Acid Test
The stomach acid test is used to measure the quantity and acidity of stomach contents.
How the Stomach Acid Test is Performed
After not eating for a period of time, fluid is all that remains in the stomach. This fluid can be removed via a tube inserted through the esophagus, which is known as the food pipe.
To test the ability of cells in the stomach to secrete acid, gastrin may be injected just under the skin, into a muscle, or into a vein. The stomach contents are then removed and analyzed.
Another test involves insulin-induced hypoglycemia. Enough insulin is given under the skin or through a vein to cause the blood sugar to decrease. This causes the vagus nerve to stimulate the release of gastrin. After a short time, the stomach contents are removed and analyzed.
How to Prepare for the Stomach Acid Test
You will be asked not to eat or drink for 4 - 6 hours before the test.
How the Test Will Feel
You may notice some discomfort or a gagging feeling as the tube is passed through your nose or mouth, and down your esophagus.
Why the Stomach Acid Test is Performed
This test may be used for a number of reasons:
- To check if anti-ulcer medications are working
- To check if material is coming back up from the small intestine
- To evaluate the cause of mal absorption of nutrients from the intestines
- To test for the cause of ulcers
Normal Results of the Stomach Acid Test
Normally the volume of the stomach fluid is 20 to 100 mL and the pH is acidic (1.5 to 3.5). In some situations, these numbers are converted to actual acid production in units of milli equivalents per hour.
Note: Normal value ranges may vary slightly among different laboratories. Talk to your doctor about the meaning of your specific test results.
What Abnormal Results of the Stomach Acid Test Mean
- Decreased levels of stomach acid or gastrin can cause mal absorption.
- Increased levels of gastrin can cause increased secretion of acid and may lead to ulcers (Zollinger-Ellison syndrome).
- Ulcers may be caused by delayed emptying or increased secretion of acid.
- The presence of bile in the stomach indicates material is backing up from the small intestine (duodenum). This may happen after a partial gastrectomy.
Risks of the Stomach Acid Test
There is a slight risk of the tube being placed through the windpipe and into the lungs instead of through the esophagus and into the stomach. The health care provider will be sure the tube is correctly placed before continuing with the test.
If the test includes injection of insulin, there's a risk of bringing on symptoms of low blood sugar.
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