Heartburn is a very common health issue that affects millions of people worldwide, regardless of the age, race or sex. Heartburn is in fact a symptom of a disease called GERD - gastroesophageal reflux disease. Even though this disease is common and generally not considered dangerous, prolonged symptoms, such as heartburn, should be treated before they cause further damage to the gastrointestinal health.
What is heartburn?
In normal conditions, human esophagus is a one-way system. It has an opening at the end, where it meets the stomach, and it only opens to let the food go through, after which it closes. Esophagus opens and closes thanks to round muscles called esophageal sphincter. The problem occurs when the sphincter becomes weaker or looser and starts opening when it is not supposed to, allowing the food and the stomach juices to come up the esophagus. Esophagus is not equipped to tolerate stomach juices and acid, which irritate the mucous lining, causing pain and burning sensation.
Chronic heartburn means that a person frequently suffers from the symptoms of GERD, every day or almost every day, regardless of the types of food consumed. This indicates a problem with the esophagus or the esophageal sphincter that should be addressed, because chronic acid reflux can cause quite a few complications.
Complications from chronic heartburn
Constant irritation caused by stomach acid to the lining of the esophagus can damage it causing ulcers, scar tissue and consequently narrowing of the esophagus, which is very unpleasant. It also causes difficulty swallowing, constant hoarseness and chronic laryngitis. If the stomach acid gets into the airways, it can cause pulmonary problems as well, such as asthma and pneumonia.
Treatment for chronic heartburn
There are several options for dealing with chronic heartburn, generally involving lifestyle and dietary modifications. It is important to eat food in smaller, more frequent meals and to avoid eating before bedtime. It is not recommended to lie down after meals. Certain foods act as triggers for heartburn and those should be identified and avoided.
Heartburn can be managed with antacid medications, however severe or chronic acid reflux may require more serious approach. Surgery is the option for people with chronic heartburn or GERD, and it can be traditional or open, or laparoscopic. Laparoscopic surgery is today preferred to the open one, because it leaves smaller or lesser scars and has shorter recovery period. Both types of surgery for GERD focus in repairing the weakened esophageal sphincter.