LUBBOCK, TX (KCBD) - For the same reason that millions look forward to the holidays, all the rich food... and lots of it... are why millions are dreading the heartburn they know they will suffer. The problem is often referred to as GERD, which stands for Gastro Esophageal Reflux Disease. And although heartburn sounds harmless, GERD is a risk factor for Esophageal Cancer.
Dr. Tim Miller, a Gastroenterologist at Covenant Health, shares this advice on when you need to seek medical attention. "So if you have a few days with heartburn and it's controlled with Tums, Zantac or Prilosec and that's all you have just once every couple of months when you overeat, then it's probably not something that you need to seek medical advice for. But if you're having it persistently where you're having to take one of these medications every day of your life to control heartburn, that is something you need to come in for because it can lead to other scary things down the road."
Dr. Miller says acid reflux and heartburn are basically the same thing. Acid reflux is when normal stomach acids intended to digest food come back up into the esophagus. And since the esophagus is not made to hold acid, it triggers heartburn. He says symptoms can include hoarseness, cough, and difficulty swallowing. But the biggest risk is the threat of Esophageal Cancer. He says it is not a very common cancer. But since it is a difficult cancer to endure and to treat, he says it is worth every effort to check on symptoms and avoid the potential danger.
Dr. Miller says he has never had heartburn, himself, but he knows from what his patients say that it is really miserable. He says "Burning is the most common symptom. Burning sharp pain in the chest can be a pressure in the chest." He says any chest pain brings fear of a heart attack and it is easy to get the two confused. So, he says, "if you're having chest pain for the first time, please don't ignore that. You need to get that checked out. " He says heartburn is easy to treat but you need to rule out heart trouble first.
Overall, Dr. Miller says, "there's basically 3 remedies for heartburn treatment. Number one is diet: When do we eat? What do we eat? How much do we eat?" He says never lie down after a big meal because all that acid is going to float back into the esophagus. Also, he says there are certain foods that we should avoid because they tend to trigger heartburn, like tomato based products, chocolates, caffeine, coffee, peppermints, and onions, among other things.
The good news is there are many over the counter solutions to heartburn and if those don't work, Dr. Miller says there are prescriptions that offer a better option for many.
Bottom line – don't treat yourself too long. Dr. Miller says there is no reason to be miserable over heartburn. If you are not getting the relief you need from over the counter medications, you should seek medical attention. Not just for relief, but for peace of mind that your heartburn is not creating a more serious problem. He says an endoscopy is a simple 5 minute test that can send a camera down the esophagus while you're asleep to find any pre-cancerous changes. Dr. Miller says, ''We can actually prevent the cancer from forming if we find those changes. So long standing symptoms [heartburn], trouble swallowing, those are things to see your G.I. doctor about."