When To See A Gastroenterologist
Sometimes its difficult to know when your symptoms are severe enough that you need to make an appointment with a gastroenterologist, and we understand that. Here are some indications that its time to call a gastroenterologist:
- Symptoms that continue for more than two weeks
- Heartburn that persists after taking over-the-counter medications
- Heartburn episodes that change in frequency or intensity
- Nighttime symptoms that affect your sleep quality
- Acid reflux that interferes with your daily activities or affects your quality of life
- Unexplained weight loss or decreased appetite
- Pain or difficulty swallowing
- Heartburn accompanied by nausea or vomiting
- Unexplained weight loss
- Chronic hoarseness or wheezing
If you experience any of the symptoms above, its time to see one of our gastroenterologists. After performing a complete medical exam, your gastroenterologist may recommend that you undergo an upper endoscopy to evaluate your symptoms and see if you have suffered any damage to your esophagus, or provide you with the peace of mind that everything is all right. During your visit, the doctor will examine the lining of your esophagus, stomach and duodenum to determine the cause of your digestive symptoms and the appropriate treatment.
So How Long Does Heartburn Last
Sadly, its difficult to say how long your heartburn is going to last, as this depends on each individual. For some it goes away after a few minutes, and with others it can stick around for hours or even days.
If youre experiencing the milder form of this condition that usually occurs after eating certain foods, then your heartburn symptoms can last until your body has digested the meal. The symptoms can also return when you lie down or bend over, as this puts extra pressure on the sphincter muscle.
If youre not among the lucky ones who only get heartburn during the day, you might be wondering how long heartburn can last at night. This form is known to be the most painful, and can even keep you up the whole night, and its also the most dangerous, since the stomach acid can stay in your oesophagus for longer, causing more damage to it. Night-time heartburn can also point to a more serious underlying medical condition, one that should be checked by a doctor.
Six Signs Your Heartburn Could Be Something More Serious
That burning, uncomfortable sensation in your chest? Itâs probably heartburn. Heartburn is a very common ailment that affects many people for many reasons. It occurs when digestive acid escapes the stomach and irritates the delicate lining of the esophagus.
Usually, itâs the result of eating certain foods, or simply overeating, and can be treated with over-the-counter antacids. But sometimes, heartburn is a symptom of bigger problems, that require other solutions. Hereâs when to call a doctor:
Don’t Miss: What To Take For Heartburn Relief
What Is Acid Reflux
A circular muscle called the lower esophageal sphincter joins your esophagus and stomach. This muscle is in charge of tightening your esophagus after food passes to the stomach. If this muscle is weak or doesnt tighten properly, the acid from your stomach can move backward into your esophagus. This is known as acid reflux.
Acid reflux can cause heartburn and other symptoms that include:
Most people can experience heartburn and acid reflux intermittently related to something they ate or habits like lying down immediately after eating. However, GERD is a chronic condition where doctors start to examine long-lasting habits and parts of a persons anatomy that could cause GERD. Examples of the causes of GERD include:
- being overweight or obese, which puts extra pressure on the stomach
- hiatal hernia, which reduces pressure in the LES
- consuming alcohol
- taking medicines known to weaken the LES, such as antihistamines, calcium channel blockers, pain-relieving medicines, sedatives, and antidepressants
Symptoms of GERD may disrupt your daily life. Fortunately, they can usually be controlled with treatment. Options include:
- diet modification
- smoking cessation
- alcohol cessation
Medications for GERD work to reduce the amount of acid in the stomach. They may not be effective for everyone. Some people need surgery to help reinforce the LES.
Watch: Foods That Help Get Rid Of Acid Reflux
Eat regularly throughout the day. Overeating is never a good idea, but an empty stomach can cause problems, too. Go more than three to four hours without chowing down and stomach acid collects. Eat small meals and drink water throughout the day.
Dont eat before bed. Nocturnal acid reflex is a real concern. Normally, someone who is sitting upright will swallow saliva and neutralize that acid, Ergun says. But if youre sleeping, it could be sitting in your esophagus for a while. Wait at least two to three hours after eating before you go to bed. And watch how you sleep. Liquid and gas want to go to the path of least resistance, Pichetshote says. If youre lying flat, it can easily go up toward your head. If youre sleeping a little more upright, it has to fight gravity.
Elevate your head six to eight inches by buying a wedge pillow or slipping a wedge-shaped piece of foam underneath your mattress. Some research suggests that lying on your left side can reduce acid reflux. Theres a pocket in our stomach that has a little more acid than the rest of our stomach, Pichetshote says. When we sleep on our right side, the pocket becomes closer to our esophagus and that can give us more reflux.
You May Like: Is Baking Soda Good For Heartburn And Gas
Change Your Sleeping Position
Even if you didnt eat for a few hours before you laid down to sleep, you could start feeling heartburn once you lay down immediately.
Why does this happen if your body has already had ample time to digest?
Simply put, the position that you are in when you lay on your back puts extra pressure on the sphincter at the bottom of your esophagus.
This sphincter is the LES, the muscle separating your stomach from your esophagus and is the root of acid reflux disorders.
When the LES is pressed on when you lie down flat, it can cause reflux to occur.
To avoid this, make sure you are elevating your head and shoulders when you sleep and not simply laying flat.
This can easily be done by putting a few pillows behind you.
What Kinds Of Complications Are Caused By Frequent Heartburn
- Excess stomach acid in the esophagus can cause ulcers, damage to the inner layers of the esophageal wall, and narrowing .
- Very rarely, the esophagus may bleed or tear completely because it is so damaged. In severe cases, a person may vomit blood or have small amounts of blood in bowel movements, found only on testing the stool.
- Regurgitated stomach acid can damage the respiratory tract, causing asthma, hoarseness, chronic cough, sore throat, or tooth damage . A person may feel as if he or she has a lump in the throat.
- If the acid exposure continues for long periods of time, the esophagus becomes thick and damaged. A person may then have difficulty swallowing and food becomes stuck.
Read Also: Baking Soda And Water For Heartburn
I Have Been Experiencing Heartburn The Past Few Days To The Point I Have A Rough Night Sleeping
I am 28 years old and I the last time I experienced heartburn was when I was pregnant back in 2007. My eating habits are the same as they have always been. Is this something normal to get heartburn out of the blue?
Are you constipated? Heartburn is fairly normal, but not if it keeps happening. Any chance you’re pregnant? If not, I’d wait a few days to see if it goes away, watch what you eat, to be sure you’re not snacking on something, if it doesn’t go away, call your dr.
I am not constipated, it’s just the heartburn. And I don’t think I am pregnant, I got my monthly cycle in the beginning of the month. So I don’t think I am. What should I avoid eating in the meantime?
spicey things, sometimes fried foods will do it, or dairy.
Thank you, this has been very helpful.
Sophia, a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar works wonders if this is not a recurring thing. Also, you need tums or a lemon hard tack candy to create mucuous in the tummy to dilute the acid. Do you have a hiatal hernia perhaps? If it continues, you should see a Gastroenterologist . Your food is not digesting properly which will cause heartburn but HPylori is another problem you could be developing so definitely see a GI doctor if it continues. HPylori is bacteria in the stomach and antibiotics is what is used to help it along with some fort of acid reducer.Good Luck!
Avoid Food Before Bedtime
Late-night snacking is never a good idea if you have GERD. When you lie flat after eating, gravity forces the contents of your stomach closer toward the LES . If you eat a lot of food, the pressure against the LES increases even further.
To avoid this, avoid eating or drinking at least two hours before bedtime. If you have severe GERD symptoms, you may want to stop four hours beforehand.
Eating earlier meals not only ensures that the stomach is empty while sleeping but also reduces the level of nocturnal stomach acids, according to a 2011 study in the Journal of Neurogastroenterology and Motility.
You May Like: Does Sparkling Water Cause Heartburn
Heartburn Acid Reflux And Gerd
The terms heartburn, acid reflux, and GERD are often used interchangeably. They actually have very different meanings.
Acid reflux is a common medical condition that can range in severity from mild to serious. Gastroesophageal reflux disease is the chronic, more severe form of acid reflux. Heartburn is a symptom of acid reflux and GERD.
Health Conditions That Can Cause Heartburn
When the valve that separates the stomach from the esophagusthe lower esophageal sphincter, or LESisnt closed tightly, it can lead to heartburn. “The LES has to relax to allow the meal to go down,” says Kenneth R. DeVault, MD, professor of gastroenterology and chair of the department of medicine at the Mayo Clinic, in Jacksonville, Fla. “But when those relaxations become too many or occur at the wrong time, that allows acid to reflux.”These 5 conditions can affect the LES, boosting your heartburn risk.
You May Like: Best Heartburn Medicine During Pregnancy
Medical Treatments For Gerd
Medications are available with and without a prescription for acid reflux and GERD.
Antacids: First-line treatments for acid reflux are usually antacids. These medicines act quickly to reduce the effect of stomach acid, which can relieve symptoms. Examples of these medicines are Tums and Rolaids.
If these medicines dont relieve acid reflux or a person has GERD, other treatments can include:
H2 blockers: H2 blockers are designed to reduce the amount of acid a persons stomach produces. Sometimes taking these medicines with antacids can help. Examples of these medicines include cimetidine and famotidine .
Proton pump inhibitors: These medications work longer than H2 blockers to reduce acid in the stomach. They can also help heal the stomach lining. Examples include:
Prokinetics: These are medications like metoclopramide . There is controversy as to whether these medications benefit people with GERD. Many new prokinetics have been removed from the market due to serious side effects .
If medications dont reduce a persons acid reflux symptoms, a doctor may recommend surgery to avoid further damage to the esophagus and stomach. One surgical approach is known as Nissen fundoplication. This involves wrapping a portion of your stomach around the esophagus to strengthen the LES.
- difficulty breathing
How Does The Doctor Evaluate Heartburn
Your doctor may order several different tests and take the following steps to evaluate persistent heartburn that hasn’t gone away even after you modify factors such as your diet:
- Your doctor may ask for an EKG to help rule out heart-related problems.
- Your doctor will perform an examination to see if you have any abdominal mass or a hiatal hernia. A hiatal hernia occurs when the upper part of the stomach and the LES move above the diaphragm.
- Your doctor will check your blood pressure.
- Your doctor will take a careful medical history to see if medications are causing the problem.
- Your doctor may ask for a gastric emptying study to see how fast food goes out of your stomach or a test to show how well the esophagus and the LES work.
- Your doctor may refer you for an upper endoscopy. In this test, a flexible tube with a tiny camera helps the doctor assess the esophagus and look for damage or abnormalities.
Recommended Reading: What Makes You Get Heartburn
Don’t Drink Too Much Alcohol
Alcohol increases the amount of acid the stomach produces. It also relaxes the LES. If you drink, try these tips:
- Dilute the alcohol with water or club soda.
- Limit consumption. Have one or two mixed drinks, no more than 16 ounces of wine, or no more than three beers.
- Drink white wine instead of red wine.
- Choose non-alcoholic beer or wine.
- Keep track of which alcoholic drinks trigger your heartburn. Avoid these drinks as much as you can.
Are There Any Tests For Heartburn
If it is obvious from the symptoms that a person has heartburn, no tests or exams may be necessary. Advice in regard to lifestyle modifications, diet, or medications may begin immediately.
If your health care professional is not sure about the diagnosis, or if he or she is concerned about damage done by chronic heartburn, tests may be ordered. This is true especially if the patient has already been prescribed medications that are not relieving the heartburn.
There is no simple blood test for heartburn. The tests used to diagnose heartburn include the following:
Read Also: Diet To Get Rid Of Heartburn
Note The Time Your Heartburn Symptoms Occur
Think, too, about when the heartburn occurs. Galier says if it happens after a big meal, and it’s just the burning in the chest, with no other symptoms, itâs more than likely heartburn or indigestion. But if you have any doubt, it’s wise to ask your doctor for an evaluation.
“If you have chest pain after a meal, it’s more likely to be reflux,” agrees Glenn Eisen, MD, MPH, professor of medicine and director of endoscopy at the Oregon Health & Science University in Portland. But that’s not a perfect test, he says. “It could be cardiac.”
Phil Katz, MD, says that knowing what “classic” heartburn is like may help. Katz is president-elect of the American College of Gastroenterology and clinical professor of medicine at Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia.
âThe classic heartburn symptom,â he tells WebMD, âis burning that starts at the upper stomach or lower breastbone and progresses upward and occurs after a meal or when bending over.” He adds, “It’s rapidly relieved by an antacid within a few minutes.â
When To See Your Doctor
The suggestions set out above are just some of the changes you could make to reduce the symptoms of heartburn, and the list is not exhaustive. If you still feel no relief after following them, you should definitely consult your doctor.
The following situations should encourage you to make a doctors appointment as soon as possible:
- severe signs: if youre experiencing severe signs of heartburn , seek medical help to make sure the exposure to stomach acid doesnt cause irreparable harm to your body
- uncertainty: talk to a professional if youre not sure whether youre actually experiencing heartburn, as there are some other conditions with overlapping symptoms that point to serious complications
- frequent GERD: if you experience the symptoms of GERD several times a week then see your doctor immediately, even if the symptoms are mild
- regular use of over-the-counter medications: being a regular user of over-the-counter antacids or other medications can be dangerous, as they will only neutralise your symptoms but cannot heal the actual inflammation that causes them
- no relief after medication: if you still have heartburn symptoms even after taking prescription or over-the-counter medications, discuss the matter with your doctor to see where the problem is
- problems engaging in your daily activities: if frequent or chronic heartburn symptoms are interfering with your daily activities, seek professional help to get your life back on track.
Recommended Reading: What Foods To Avoid For Heartburn And Indigestion
Why You Should Never Ignore Gerd
After several years, untreated GERD erodes the lining of the esophagus, and as a protective mechanism, the esophagus starts to create a new lining with cells that resemble the makeup of the intestine. At this stage, GERD has progressed into a precancerous condition known as Barretts esophagus, bringing with it a 30-fold increased risk of eventually developing esophageal cancer.
Esophageal cancer is deadly only about 15% of people are still alive five years after being diagnosed, according to the American Cancer Society. And its more common among individuals who have long suffered from GERD that is not properly treated.
According to a study published in TheNew England Journal of Medicine, cancer of the esophagus was nearly eight times as likely among people who suffered from heartburn at least once a week, and almost 44 times as likely in those who had severe, frequent heartburn for more than 20 years. Almost all of these people had only sporadic treatment for GERD, not long-term treatment.
If you have GERD, and you are having any of these symptoms, tell your doctor right away:
- If difficulty swallowing or a feeling like food is trapped behind the breastbone becomes a new symptom of your GERD.
- If you vomit blood or have black, tarry bowel movements.
- If you have the sensation of acid reflux into the windpipe causing shortness of breath, coughing, or hoarseness.
- If you lose weight unexpectedly or without trying.