Most people will experience heartburn, or acid reflux, at least once in their life. For some, it is a much more frequent occurrence than others. It can be irritating and painful, and if left untreated, have serious consequences. Frequent heartburn can be frustrating, affecting your enjoyment of daily activities, or worse, your sleep. While heartburn is common, it is both treatable and preventable. Here are some important things to know about heartburn.
Symptoms can vary
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The most common and well-known symptom of heartburn is the burning sensation in the chest, for which the phenomenon is named. This can also be accompanied by coughing, difficulty swallowing, or a sour taste in the mouth. You may be wondering, how long does heartburn last? The answer is that it varies from person to person. Most heartburn lasts for a short time, only as long as the food is being digested. However, for some, it can last for several hours, causing prolonged discomfort that can disrupt normal functioning.
Certain foods can be triggers
While, generally, large meals can cause heartburn, certain foods can trigger the painful sensation even when consumed in small amounts. Unfortunately, the list of triggers includes some of our favorite foods. Highly acidic foods like tomatoes, citrus fruits, and coffee are at the top of the list of agitators, alongside highly fatty fried foods. While these are delicious, it’s best to practice moderation if you plan to indulge in these tasty treats.
Your sleep position plays a big role
Another trigger for heartburn that gets less attention than food is the position in which you sleep. Certain sleep positions can leave your esophagus below your stomach, allowing gravity to pull stomach acid back into your throat throughout the night. To avoid this, sleep at a slight incline, which allows you to use gravity to your advantage.
It gets worse as you get older
As you age, your body begins to change, making heartburn a more common or persistent issue. Weakening muscles can cause seniors to experience a variety of issues with their digestive tract, which they may not have experienced before. Exercising, eating a sensible diet, and good sleep habits can help minimize the effects of aging and lower your risk of frequent heartburn.
It’s not always painful
Most acid reflux affects the esophagus, causing the burning in the chest that is most frequently associated with the condition. However, if the acid spills into the throat or larynx (voice box), it may not cause chest pain at all. This condition is often called Silent Reflux because it can cause problems without the major indicator of other acid reflux conditions. If you find yourself constantly congested or have to clear your throat often after meals, you may want to talk to a doctor about Silent Reflux.
It can have serious consequences
While typical heartburn isn’t in and of itself a medically serious condition, if left untreated, it can have some serious consequences. Most commonly, prolonged heartburn that is not treated can lead to problems with the esophagus. These problems can include scar tissue build-up, esophageal ulcers, and even an elevated risk for certain types of cancer. The risk of these problems increases as the frequency and longevity of the symptoms increase, so be sure to listen to your body and get treatment as soon as possible.
Heartburn can be painful and aggravating, especially as you get older. Luckily, these problems are easily avoidable if acid reflux is managed well through diet and medication. If you’re experiencing symptoms, don’t wait! Talk to a doctor about how you can best treat your acid reflux today to enjoy a healthier future.
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