Severe Heartburn-What You Need To Know About Symptoms And Treatments

Did you know that one in 10 Americans experiences heartburn symptoms a minimum of once per week.Dyspepsia and indigestion are terms which are usually associated with severe heartburn. Almost everybody experiences severe heartburn from time to time,which is described by a burning feeling in the chest or burning sensation in the throat, with a sour, acidic, or bitter tasting fluid at the back of the throat. It can occur for a number of reasons such as eating a spicy meal,eating a large meal or drinking a lot of alcohol,some medications you might be taking.

Although it is called heartburn or severe heartburn, it has nothing to do with the heart. It is a result of stomach acids reacting strongly to certain foods or diet during digestion, and a faulty valve called esophageal sphincter.

severe heartburnThis happens when gastric acids in the stomach goes up towards the esophagus, which is the muscular tube that transports food and water from the pharynx towards the stomach. The lower esophageal sphincter has a kind of a one way muscular valve, similar to one way street. Meaning, the food can go toward the stomach passing the esophageal sphincter,however should not go backwards.

A severe heartburn can happen from time to time,depending on our medical condition, diet or bad habits we have, the esophageal sphincter does not close properly or it stays open. The result of this is that the acid from stomach sneaks back up into the esophagus, thus damaging its lining and resulting in this very unpleasant burning sensation and taste of acid on the back of your tongue.

What are the causes of severe heartburn:

  • Obesity, that extra weight seems to have an affect on esophageal sphincter,causing it to relax
  • Pregnancy,growing fetus puts some extra pressure on the valve and also the progesterone hormone produced by placenta relaxes the valve allowing gastric acids to seep back up
  • Some medications may result in relaxing of the lower esophageal sphincter causing severe heartburn. Consult with your doctor,in order to rule out any medication that might cause the problem
  • Another common cause of severe heartburn that we have control over,is our diet, the food we consume everyday. Fried and high fat foods, known for slowing down digestion, keeping the food in the stomach for longer time. Alcohol will relax the lower esophageal sphincter, it will also increase the production of stomach acid. Eating before going to bed, lying down with a full stomach,will cause food in the stomach to press against the lower esophageal sphincter,resulting in acid leaking out

As there are many different causes of severe heartburn,will talk in more details about them in another article.

Severe heartburn symptoms are similar to heart attack and asthma. It should be taken note that knowing the difference is crucial. Cardiac disease must be the first condition to be ruled out whenever a person is experiencing unexplained chest pain. The most noticeable symptom of severe heartburn is a sharp and cutting feeling in the chest area, due to the sudden reflux of stomach acids. At times, this lasts only for a few moments while at times it could last for hours.

A person with severe heartburn would also have feelings of being choked because of the hot sensation in the throat. There is also the difficulty in swallowing food and drinks. This is because the esophagus narrows out when acid goes up. This is one of the worst symptoms of severe heartburn because one could actually choke to death if not given a proper medical attention. Asthma symptoms are also evident among patients with severe heartburn,such as shortness of breath, severe wheezing after eating or drinking. This is because the reaction in the stomach would tend to extend towards the neck and the chest area.

Unfortunately if severe heartburn is ignored for long time,it might lead to GERD(gastroesophageal reflux disease). Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease is a severe or chronic acid reflux that in turn if left untreated can lead to much more serious complications, such as inflammation of the esophagus and potentially dangerous one as cancer. The thing is, that our stomach has a lining that prevents it from the damaging effects of acid,however the esophagus does not have this protective lining. This why if symptoms of severe heartburn are ignored for long time,it may lead to Barrett’s esophagus.

What is Barrett’s esophagus? in simple words, it is when the lining of the esophagus ends up being like the lining of the intestine. This particular process is known as intestinal metaplasia, and a small number of individuals with Barrett’s esophagus acquire a rare but unfortunately lethal type of cancer of the esophagus.

Having severe heartburn can cause some significant negative effects on someone’s life. Patients suffering from acid reflux are forced to change their diet or in some cases completely refrain from certain foods and drinks,as some of these foods and drinks can trigger heartburn. It is important to have a look at your current lifestyle,diet and habits, and consider making some changes in order to control the condition. For example, smoking is one of the risk factors in severe heartburn,because it inhibits the production of saliva, which is the esophagus defense against harsh acid damage. Quitting smoking would then be a great adjustment, the same goes for alcohol.

What are the treatments for severe heartburn?

The first line of defense against severe heartburn involves a complete revision of your lifestyle,diet, bad habits  as well as medical conditions. See if you can identify the foods that trigger your severe heartburn symptoms in your particular case. Talk to your family doctor,if he can narrow down the particular medical condition and medications,in your case,that may cause heartburn. Sometimes these small changes could be just what you need.

If all the above mentioned changes did not result in significant improvement, if that is the case,your doctor might recommend you a consultation with a specialist.

Most likely your  gastroenterologist will recommend you some non-prescription treatments such as antacids,Tums,Roladix and Maalox. Some other non-prescription medications include acid blockers,such as Pepcid AC, Tagamet HB, Zantac 75 (ranitidine), and Axid AR.

If that does not solve the problem,the next step would be prescription medications.The first would be a higher dose of Zantac, Tagamet, Pepcid, and Axid. The next step would be proton pump inhibitors,the medications that more effectively block acid production, such as Aciphex, Nexium, Prevacid, Prilosec, and Protonix.Another type of prescription medication include promotility agents. These are used to improve severe heartburn symptoms for patients with delayed gastric emptying time. They speed up digestion time, which in turn prevents acid from staying in the stomach for longer period of time. Usually the stomach content is moved to the small intestine within 90 to 120 minutes.

Severe heartburn surgical treatments:

Fundoplication or Transoral Incisionless Fundoplication (TIF),this procedure fixes the anti reflux muscular valve between the esophagus and stomach and is conducted trans-orally, meaning through the mouth.Due to the fact that this procedure is incision-less, there is reduction in pain suffering, quicker recovery time needed, and no noticeable scar.

Laparoscopic anti-reflux surgery-this procedure involves making five or six small incisions in the abdomen.It is also a minimally-invasive procedure that fixes severe heartburn problem by reducing the hiatal hernia, rebuilding the esophageal hiatus and also strengthening the lower esophageal sphincter, the muscular valve between stomach and esophagus.

These are only some of available treatments for severe heartburn. However, as 94% of patients link their heartburn problem to consumption of specific foods and drinks or bad habits, a well-balanced and nutritional diet,coupled with a good exercise program would be the most inexpensive preventative treatment towards a heartburn free life. As you might of heard before,prevention is better than cure.

Take a look at the video bellow for a better understanding of what exactly is heartburn and how it can affect you.