(Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease; Gastro-oesophageal Reflux Disease [GORD]; GERD; Reflux, Heartburn)
Heartburn is a burning sensation in the lower chest. Heartburn can be caused by different conditions, but most often it is related to gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).
Treatment may depend on the cause of your heartburn. In most cases, heartburn can be treated with medications, lifestyle changes, or surgery.
Heartburn is caused by stomach acid that moves up into the esophagus. A muscle at the top of the stomach allows food to enter the stomach. This muscle also closes to prevent food and acid from moving back up into the esophagus. Certain conditions can keep this muscle from closing completely, which allows acid to flow out. This causes heartburn.
Factors that increase your chance of heartburn include:
Foods and beverages associated with heartburn include:
Medications and supplements associated wtih heartburn include:
Heartburn symptoms usually occur after overeating or lying down after a big meal. The symptoms may last for a few minutes or a few hours.
Common heartburn symptoms may include:
Other symptoms and complications of reflux include:
If reflux persists, the acid can damage the esophagus. Symptoms of esophageal damage include:
When Should I Call My Doctor?
It is common to experience heartburn occasionally. If you have heartburn at least two times a week, make an appointment to see your doctor. Call your doctor if you have any symptoms of heartburn complications.
When Should I Call for Medical Help Immediately?
Heartburn and chest pain due to a heart attack can feel similar. Get medical help right away if you have:
If you are not sure of the cause of any pain in your chest, call for emergency help right away.
The doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. Your doctor may be able to make a diagnosis based on your symptoms. Your doctor may also take images of your esophagus or stomach with an upper GI series. A sample of your esophagus may be taken and sent for examination. This is often done during an endoscopy.
Other tests may include:
Talk to your doctor about the best treatment plan for you. Treatment will depend on what is causing your heartburn. Treatment may focus on preventing heartburn from occuring or repairing damage causing the heartburn.
To help decrease the indicidence of heartburn:
Medication may help relieve symptoms and repair any damage to the esophagus. Many prescription heartburn medications are available over-the-counter. Your doctor may recommend the following.
If symptoms are severe and you cannot tolerate medication, surgery may be an option.
The most common surgery for heartburn is fundoplication. The doctor wraps the stomach around the esophagus. This creates pressure on the muscle at the opening to the stomach.
An advantage of endoscopic techniques is that they do not involve incisions in the skin. Instead, the doctor inserts a lighted device called an endoscope through the mouth and down the esophagus. The doctor can perform one of a variety of procedures with this scope to decreases the backward flow of stomach acid into the esophagus.
If surgery or endoscopy is successful, you may no longer need heartburn medication.
American Gastroenterological Association
National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases
Canadian Institute for Health Information
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Last reviewed April 2013 by Daus Mahnke, MD; Brian Randall, MD