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What is Chronic Heartburn?

Article Details
  • Written By: A. Pasbjerg
  • Edited By: Heather Bailey
  • Last Modified Date: 25 July 2018
  • Copyright Protected:
    2003-2018
    Conjecture Corporation
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Most people experience the discomfort of heartburn from time to time, but those suffering from chronic heartburn feel the effects frequently, sometimes on a daily basis. Many of these people have a more serious condition called GERD, or gastroesophageal reflux disease. The pain and other effects of repeated exposure of the esophagus to stomach acid may have significant negative effects on their quality of life. It may also lead to other problems, some of them potentially serious, and should therefore be treated by a doctor.

GERD is a common cause of chronic heartburn. The condition is caused by the muscular opening at the bottom of the esophagus which leads into the stomach frequently not closing correctly. This allows repeated reflux of acid up into the esophagus, leading to heartburn symptoms such as pain, burning sensations in the chest, and shortness of breath.

Lifestyle choices can also contribute to chronic heartburn. Certain foods, such as spicy or fatty foods, may provoke an attack. Smoking and drinking alcohol or caffeine often makes the problem worse. Eating right before going to bed often leads to reflux during the night. Sufferers should identify what triggers attacks for them and try to avoid these situations.

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Many people with chronic heartburn have other issues as a result of the problem. Chronic sore throat, cough, and hoarseness often result from the repeated exposure to acid in the esophagus. Some people can develop asthma or other respiratory problems. More severe damage may also occur, leading to issues such as narrowing of the esophagus due to scar tissue, ulcers in the esophagus, or damaged vocal chords.

Those who suffer from chronic heartburn should seek medical treatment, as repeated episodes can have potentially serious effects. Exposing the esophagus to acid over and over can lead to a condition called Barrett's esophagus. This is when the normal cells in the esophagus are replaced by cells similar to those in the stomach and intestines, which are more resistant to the acid. This type of change is of concern because these cells have an increased chance of becoming cancerous.

There are several treatment options for those with chronic heartburn. Over-the-counter antacids may offer some relief, though they are often not strong enough for an ongoing issue. Doctors can also prescribe more effective drugs, such as acid blockers or proton pump inhibitors. In some cases, a surgical procedure to tighten the muscles at the top of the stomach may be appropriate.

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