Heartburn Q&A

Published date: November 16, 2012 | Modified date: January 24, 2017

Heartburn can feel like this sometimes. (great image thx to jamesreekie.blogspot.com)

Heartburn or acid reflux or GERD

Whatever the name, if you are like millions of others, you are experiencing this gastrointestinal malady.

You may take your acid reflux problem for granted and buy your antacids at Costco, but you should be aware of the negative effects this has on your entire body. You also should know that heartburn is a sign of other problems, and can almost always be treated without acid blockers.

The Prevalence of Acid Reflux Disease

Acid rising from the stomach and irritating the lower esophageal sphincter (LES), the valve that separates the esophagus from the stomach, results in the feeling of what is commonly called heartburn.

Some 35 to 45 percent of the population experiences heartburn, often called GERD or “gastroesophageal reflux disease”. That’s a whopping 116 million people! It’s also the most profitably treated symptom in America. Last year, Prilosec was the top selling prescription drug in the world, earning Astra Zeneca, the drug’s maker, 6 billion dollars.

This sad state of affairs means that it is almost considered normal to have GERD and to take drugs for it. However, heartburn is far less than normal, and those experiencing it are definitely nowhere near optimal health.

Symptoms of Acid Reflux 

Acid reflux is generally felt as a burning pain in the middle of the chest. It may also feel like a pressure in the chest. In some people it can be so bad that it is difficult to keep food down and may even result in dental erosion.

Over time reflux can result in damage to the LES, called Barrett’s Esophagitis, and even cancer.

If you have chronic heartburn or reflux then be sure to have a thorough examination by a gastroenterologist to rule out this serious conditions.

Sometimes this chest pain is confused with heart pain. If you are unsure about the cause of any pain in your chest, be sure to have a thorough exam by your doctor.

So Why Is Acid Refluxing?

There are several causes of acid reflux, but the common thread is the relaxation of the LES. Once the LES relaxes, acid is afforded the opportunity to rise from the stomach and damage the esophagus, resulting in a burning feeling.

Once the esophagus has been damaged it is very slow to heal. Antacids, histamine blockers and proton pump inhibitors only shut down acid production, they don’t promote healing of the LES, nor do they cure the cause of the heartburn.

The Myth About Heartburn

It’s commonly believed that heartburn is the result of overeating. And although 116 million Americans may overeat, the size of the meal has no scientific correlation with the frequency of heartburn.
“Then we must be producing too much stomach acid,” you say. Having too much acid production is very rare. In fact, the opposite is the case. In most people, stomach acid decreases with age.