Learn about heartburn, and how to find relief from its pain.
Both men and women suffer from heartburn. It’s a common condition caused by the regurgitation of stomach acid into the esophagus, characterized by a burning sensation in the chest or upper abdomen. “The pain can sometimes radiate into the upper chest, or even into the throat area,” says Dr. David Silvers, a gastroenterologist at East Jefferson General Hospital.
Heartburn can be caused or affected by a patient’s existing medications. “The first thing is to take a history to determine if patients are taking medications that may be contributing to the heartburn,” Dr. Silvers says. “The most common [heartburn-aggravating] medications are anti-inflammatories, such as aspirin and ibuprofen.”
Though infrequent or mild heartburn may be ameliorated with over-the-counter antacids, a physician must address more persistent or serious cases. Treatment for heartburn can range from lifestyle and dietary modifications to oral medications. “As far as treatment goes, we would recommend avoiding irritating medications and then making some lifestyle changes, such as avoiding eating late at night, eating while lying down and overeating; and avoiding certain foods that can aggravate heartburn and reflux,” Dr. Silvers explains. Acidic foods are typically the culprit, including tomatoes or tomato gravy; citrus; caffeine; chocolate and alcohol.
Patients who don’t find relief from lifestyle modifications may be candidates for prescription medications. Prilosec, Nexium, Zantac and Pepcid are some of the most popular heartburn medications; these options differ from antacids in their various mechanisms of action, which all prevent the production of acid at its source. “Antacids have been used for many years, and many help patients — but they only give short-term relief, as they don’t block anything other than decreasing the acidity in the stomach,” Dr. Silvers says.
If left untreated, heartburn can have serious negative effects on both quality of life and patient health. “The persistent irritation of acid affecting the lower esophagus can lead to erosions and ulcerations of the esophagus,” Dr. Silvers says. Esophageal irritation may develop into pre-cancerous conditions — so it’s pivotal to address heartburn when it starts.
Schedule your heartburn consultation with Dr. Silvers:
East Jefferson General Hospital
4228 Houma Blvd. #120, Metairie, LA 70006