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While heartburn is a common digestive health condition, it is important to know when to see a gastroenterologist.

Watch to learn about heartburn and when it's time to see a specialist.

Heartburn, Acid Reflux (GERD)

Your stomach makes acid to help break down food so you can digest it. When you have heartburn and acid reflux the valve at the end of your esophagus (the tube that carries food from the mouth) does not close properly. This causes acid from your stomach to come back into the esophagus. If this happens at least two times a week it is called Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD).


Symptoms of GERD may include:

  • Heartburn
  • Indigestion
  • Sour tasting fluid in the back of your mouth
  • Pain in chest
  • Hoarseness
  • Trouble swallowing
  • Dry cough
  • Bad breath

What causes GERD?

When you have acid reflux, this means something in your body isn't working as it should.  Here are some things that may add to your chance of getting GERD.

  • Alcohol use
  • Being Overweight
  • Smoking
  • Pregnancy
  • Hiatal Hernia (part of the stomach slides up into the chest cavity because of a defect in the diaphragm)

Certain foods may also cause your symptoms to flare up. Keep a log of what you eat and try to eliminate the food that you gives you the most problems. Here is a list of the most common foods that can give you heartburn.

  • Citrus fruits like oranges
  • Chocolate
  • Drinks with caffeine like coffee or colas
  • Fatty and fried foods
  • Garlic and onions
  • Mint flavor like peppermint candy
  • Spicy foods
  • Tomato-based foods like spaghetti sauce, chili and pizza

Treating Heartburn and GERD   

Make an appointment with a doctor to discuss your concerns. If you are already taking over-the-counter medications be sure to tell your doctor how much you are taking. If over-the-counter medications or lifestyle changes do not help your heartburn your doctor can prescribe a different medication that may be more effective or provide you with additional options for treatment.

The following is a list of lifestyle changes to help decrease your chances of getting heartburn.

  • Do not drink alcohol
  • Lose weight
  • Stop smoking
  • Eat small meals
  • Raise the head of your bed 6-8 inches by putting blocks under your bed posts. Just using pillows will not help.
  • Wear loose fitting clothes
  • Avoid foods that cause heartburn
  • Do not lie down for 3 hours after eating

Why should you get treated?

Over time the acid can irritate and damage the esophagus. If left untreated GERD may cause:

  • Ulcers or bleeding in the esophagus.
  • Damage to the esophagus which can cause scarring that may make it hard to swallow.
  • Barrett’s Esophagus in some people which can lead to cancer.