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Is It GERD? 

Chronic Heartburn May Be More Than a Consequence of an Unhealthy Meal

We’ve all been there. After wolfing down a delicious yet high fat dinner, it hits: heartburn. It’s uncomfortable if not painful, and it makes you instantly regret that second helping. For most of us, heartburn is an occasional side effect of poor eating habits. For others, it’s a common occurrence caused by gastroesophageal reflux disease, also known as GERD.

GERD is a condition in which the gateway between the esophagus and stomach doesn’t close properly and food and stomach acid back up into the esophagus. Heartburn that occurs more than twice a week is the most notable symptom. Others include coughing or wheezing, difficulty swallowing, hiccups, sore throat or hoarseness and regurgitation.

GERD can be brought on by pregnancy, smoking, certain medications and obesity. “We are seeing more and more of these diseases lately because of weight problems and dietary habits,” says Syed Sadiq, MD, a gastroenterologist on the medical staff at Baylor All Saints Medical Center at Fort Worth.

Avoid the burn

If you have frequent heartburn, talk to your doctor about getting evaluated for GERD. Left untreated, the condition can cause serious complications, such as ulcers and Barrett’s esophagus, which can lead to esophageal cancer.

Lifestyle changes often are effective:

  • Stop smoking.
  • Lose weight, if necessary.
  • Eat smaller, more frequent meals.
  • Avoid foods that are high in fat, and those that worsen heartburn—citrus fruits, caffeinated drinks, spicy foods, tomato-based products and peppermint.
  • Wear loose-fitting clothing.
  • Wait three hours after eating before lying down.
  • Raise the head of your bed six to eight inches.

If lifestyle changes don’t work, your doctor can prescribe medication. “Lately there has been a dramatic breakthrough in treatment,” Dr. Sadiq says. “The traditional medicine, H2 blockers, is now being replaced by PPIs [proton pump inhibitors], which are much more effective in controlling acid production and reflux, and endoscopic treatment. In selected cases, surgery may be necessary.”

To find a gastroenterologist on the medical staff at Baylor Fort Worth, visit BaylorHealth.com/AllSaintsDigestive or call 1.800.4BAYLOR.