Those who suffer from frequent heartburn can usually see the pain and discomfort coming. For some, heartburn might be triggered by certain types of food, like dairy, or rich foods that are high in fat. For others, it’s not necessarily the type of food that’s consumed, but the amount of food and even the time of day it is consumed. Regardless of what triggers your heartburn, one thing is for sure, heartburn can be quite debilitating for many, and it just happens to get worse the older you get.

What Is Heartburn?

Despite its name, heartburn doesn’t have anything to do with your heart. It’s actually a function of the stomach and esophagus, but the pain and discomfort can be felt in the lower chest, causing people to equate it with their heart, thus the name. It is also commonly known as acid reflux. Heartburn is a burning sensation that is caused by acid in your stomach flowing back up through the esophagus instead of staying in the stomach where it’s intended to. The acid causes a burning sensation that can spread from the throat through the chest. Although it can be very uncomfortable, it’s not always a cause for alarm. Having heartburn from time to time is perfectly normal, although if it becomes more frequent, it could point to a condition called gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).

What Is GERD?

GERD isn’t officially diagnosed until you experience acid reflux symptoms more than twice a week. The American College of Gastroenterology reports that more than 60 million Americans suffer from heartburn once a month, with more than 15 million experiencing it every day.

Who Gets Heartburn?

At some point, it can be assumed that everyone will experience the symptoms of heartburn to some degree. However, it’s actually a condition that tends to worsen as you age. There are many reasons why this occurs. One of the culprits of heartburn includes weight gain, which many older men and women can attest to dealing with as they age. This weight gain can cause the esophageal sphincter to weaken, thus causing it to not function properly when you’re trying to digest food.

Similarly, your muscles weaken as you get older, which includes the esophageal sphincter. Since it’s meant to remain closed at all times, aside from when you’re swallowing, a weak one can cause your stomach acid to flow the wrong direction. Additionally, the elderly population tends to take more medications, both prescription and over the counter, some of which list heartburn as a potential side effect.

Do I Need To Visit My Doctor About My Heartburn?

If you’re experiencing heartburn every once in a while, you’re probably ok to go without a visit to Cary Gastroenterology. There are over the counter medications you can take that should give you relief pretty quickly. Over the counter medications are not intended for long term use and, should you find yourself taking them frequently, you should do so under the supervision of a physician. If you start to notice that you’re experiencing the pain more often or that it’s getting increasingly more uncomfortable, make an appointment to come see us. There are a number of things we can recommend that don’t require medication, including weight loss, an adjustment in diet and exercise, changes in medications, and even different sleeping positions.