Heartburn and acid reflux are caused by stomach acid that splashes up into the esophagus — the muscular tube that carries food and fluid to the stomach.
About 10 percent of the population (and 25 percent of pregnant women) experience heartburn on a daily basis. Occasional heartburn is not serious, but you should consult your physician if you experience frequent attacks. Repeated exposure to stomach acid can irritate the lining of your esophagus and result in permanent damage and lead to other serious medical problems. This is called gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), or more commonly “acid reflux.”
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In addition to heartburn, you may experience the following:
A variety of tests are used to diagnose heartburn and Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease. They include:
Upper GI Series – In preparation for this test, the patient drinks liquid containing barium. X-rays are then taken of the esophagus and stomach to detect any abnormalities.
Upper GI Endoscopy – During this test, the patient is given a sedative. A thin, flexible, lighted tube called an endoscope is then inserted into the esophagus to visually inspect it and the stomach.
If the tissue of the esophagus has been narrowed due to the damaging results of stomach acids, it can often be widened (dilated) during this procedure.
Esophageal Manometry – This test measures the contractions of the muscles within the esophagus that move food and liquid through to the stomach.
A physician may suggest an over-the-counter antacid to reduce the symptoms.
If your heartburn symptoms become severe, or you have moderate to severe gastroesophageal reflux disease, your physician may prescribe medications to reduce or halt the secretion of stomach acid and increase the strength of the muscles . These medications can be effective, particularly at night, to prevent the flow of stomach acid back up into your esophagus. (Please consult with your physician before taking any medication.)
In rare cases, surgery is required to treat heartburn or gastroesophageal reflux disease. Surgeons can access and repair these muscles through small holes in the belly button and upper abdomen. This is called laparoscopic surgery. Many people with severe acid reflux may require surgery to strengthen the sphincters (rings of muscle) inside the esophagus. The procedure is called fundoplication, and also is usually performed laparoscopically.