If you are experiencing a burning sensation in your chest, especially after eating a large meal, you’re not alone. Millions of people experience these burning symptoms, and you’ve probably heard it called heartburn, acid reflux or gastro-esophageal reflux disease. These three conditions share similar traits, but they are all a little different. Below, we break down the symptoms and differences of each condition.
What’s Causing My Heartburn?
Of the three, heartburn is by far the most common. In fact, more than 60 million Americans suffer from heartburn at least once a month. Heartburn is a symptom of the other two conditions, but it is not synonymous with either condition. Here’s a closer look:
- Heartburn – Heartburn is not a condition, but rather a symptom of a condition. Heartburn is the classic symptom of acid reflux, a larger condition. Heartburn is what you experience when stomach acid makes its way back up the esophagus. This acid causes the esophageal lining to become irritated, painful and inflamed, which is what you’re feeling when you’re dealing with heartburn.
- Acid Reflux – Acid reflux is the larger condition of which heartburn is a symptom. Acid reflux occurs when your lower esophageal sphincter isn’t working properly and stomach acid makes its way back into the esophagus. The sphincter can become weak and fail to close, or it can relax at improper times and allow acid back up the chamber. Acid reflux can be brought upon by eating large meals and spicy foods, by certain drinks (alcohol, coffee, soda) and medications.
- GERD – Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease occurs when acid reflux becomes chronic. This is the most concerning of the three, because chronic acid reflux can lead to severe, permanent and life-threatening damage to the esophageal canal. The symptoms of GERD and acid reflux are the same, although they tend to differ in severity and frequency. If you have GERD, your symptoms are typically more severe and occur more often. Left untreated, it can lead to a narrowing of the esophagus, esophageal ulcers or even cancer.
If you are experiencing heartburn or you believe you may be dealing with one of the other conditions, make it a point to visit an esophageal specialist like Dr. Koeplin. As we noted above, the problem can spiral out of control if left untreated, so don’t delay. Most times these conditions can be successfully treated with medications and diet changes, and even if you’re dealing with a more urgent case, a minimally invasive surgical operation can fix your esophageal sphincter so that acid can’t keep coming back up. For more information or to set up an appointment with Dr. Koeplin’s office, click here.