Why You Should Eat Twice As Much Alkaline Food (1:37)
Heartburn is one of the most common medical conditions experienced by upwards of 40% of Americans on a monthly basis. Sixty million or more Americans have heartburn once a week. It occurs when a faulty valve (lower esophageal sphincter) responsible for keeping acid-containing food in the stomach fails to do its job and acid-laden contents are allowed to reflux into the esophagus (food tube). If heartburn persists, it can lead to gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).
Acid reflux, or heartburn, can happen when there is large amount of pressure in the stomach (such as after a big meal) or if the valve at the lower esophageal sphincter becomes inappropriately weak after consuming certain substances (caffeine, chocolate, alcohol, etc.) Frequently, both mechanisms of action are the cause. When reflux occurs, the lining of the esophagus is not designed to handle this displacement of acid and it can become irritated and that irritation causes heartburn.
One frequently unappreciated fact is that there are two faces of heartburn as to how it presents. The typical (classic) symptoms and atypical symptoms for heartburn are:
- Burning breast-plate (sternal) chest pain; increased by bending or lying down, worse at night, and relieved by antacids
- Food sticking after swallowing behind breast plate
- Acid in back of throat/sour taste on awakening
- Upper abdominal pain
- Temporary relief obtained with off-the-shelf antacids
- Postnasal drip
- Persistent cough
- Lump in throat
- Raspy or hoarse voice
- Noncardiac chest pain
Whether you have typical or atypical symptoms, reflux is a health issue that you cannot ignore. It is imperative that you realize that all heartburn is not created equal. You must work with your doctor to quickly assess your symptoms and determine if you have reflux or something more serious called gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). Frequency of symptoms can be an important risk factor for diagnosis for GERD. About 3% to 7% (9-21 million) of Americans have reflux every day and, unfortunately, the incidence is rising. About 22% of the primary-care visits in this country involve GERD symptoms. Over the last seven years, this is an increase of 46%.
The prolonged presence of acid in the esophagus leads to complications that can produce a range of problems from annoyance to a potentially fatal condition.