This summer, while you are applying sunscreen to prevent sunburns, don’t ignore the symptoms of internal burning that we all occasionally experience and refer to as “heartburn.”
Gastroesophageal reflux disease or “GERD” is a condition where the stomach contents flow back into the esophagus and cause symptoms. If it occurs on a regular basis, the acid can injure tissues and cause ulceration, which may lead to discomfort, bleeding, strictures and precancerous changes.
Heartburn is the most common symptom but it can also be silent until tissue damage occurs. Additional symptoms may include:
• Sour or bitter taste in mouth.
• Frequent throat clearing.
• Inflammation of gums and tooth-enamel erosion.
• Irritation of throat and lungs.
• Chronic sore throat.
• Chronic cough.
• Difficulty swallowing.
• Non-cardiac chest pain.
When should you seek medical treatment? Generally, you should talk to your doctor if:
• Heartburn occurs two or more times a week.
• Your symptoms worsen or wake you up at night.
• You have recurrent symptoms for several years.
• You have difficulty or pain when swallowing.
• Symptoms interfere with daily activities.
Treatment options include lifestyle changes such as avoiding foods that may aggravate heartburn, including chocolate, mints, spicy, fatty or fried foods, acidic foods, alcohol and caffeinated or carbonated beverages. Staying upright after eating, avoiding bending over and elevating the head of your bed can help.
Over-the-counter and prescription medications may also be prescribed for treatment. If symptoms are more severe, surgical options are also available.
If you experience persistent or worsening symptoms, don’t live with the burn. Please see your physician for evaluation and treatment. He or she can help you find relief.
Dr. Grace Chen is a board-certified geriatrician with the highly regarded UCLA Geriatrics Program in Santa Monica and Westwood. For more information, (310) 319-4371 or visit www.uclahealth.org.