Parish Nurse Corner November-December -Heartburn

I Samuel 14: 24b—“Cursed is the man who eats any food until evening, before I have taken vengeance on my enemies.  So none of these people tasted food.”


Everyone gets an upset stomach occasionally.  But when your heartburn never seems to go away, it might be time to pay a visit to your healthcare provider.  Heartburn or Heart Attack??  Heart attack symptoms can sometimes be mistaken for heartburn, so get immediate medical care if you have severe chest pain or pressure; pain in the arm, jaw, or back; difficulty breathing; cold sweat; fatigue; lightheadedness or dizziness.

Despite its name, heartburn has nothing to do with your heart.  The burning sensation in your stomach and/or throat can happen when acid from your stomach backs up into your esophagus because the band of muscle at the bottom of your esophagus isn’t working correctly to keep out the acid, creating acid reflux, also known as GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease).  The result is a burning chest pain, usually after eating or at night, that gets worse when you lie down or bend over.

Treating heartburn at home may be okay if you don’t have risk factors for cardiac disease, and the heartburn is only occasional and depends on what you ate.  However, any kind of heartburn that’s persistent for more than a few weeks and is new for you is a reason to call your doctor.  It’s important to be seen by a doctor at least once because heartburn can be associated with damage to the esophagus or precancerous changes in the body.  Also, if your heartburn is persistent and you are losing weight, or having difficulty swallowing, or you are reaching for more and more antacid medications, it’s imperative to see your doctor.

Your doctor may recommend an X-ray, endoscopy, or other medical tests to determine the exact cause of your symptoms.  Beyond GERD, your heartburn could be caused by pancreatitis, gall bladder disease, ulcers, etc.  To treat GERD, you’ll likely start with medication—either over the counter or prescription—along with lifestyle changes.  Cutting back on fatty foods and big meals, not eating more than three hours before bedtime, and not smoking may be helpful.

Surgery or endoscopic treatments are options for GERD when trying medications and lifestyle changes fail, but they aren’t as commonly used.  If you can manage this with diet and lifestyle changes, that’s the best way to go.  Many people can improve their symptoms with just these simple changes.

Here are some heartburn triggers:  chocolate, peppermint, alcohol, carbonated beverages, coffee and other caffeinated drinks, spicy foods, onions, citrus fruits, tomato products, fatty foods, fried foods, and large meals.