Acid Reflux Disease: Symptoms, Causes, Tests, and Treatments

Jul 15, 2019 | Reflux/Heartburn

Heartburn is something that everyone likely suffers from at some point. Whether it’s a touch of spicy food, eating too much at a sitting, or drinking too much alcohol or carbonated beverages, there are many different causes of heartburn. Most of the time, there’s no cause for concern, but if heartburn is prevalent or painful, it may be time to think about seeing a physician. Read on to learn more about acid reflux/heartburn, the differences between acid reflux and GERD, and when it’s time to give your doctor a call. 

Symptoms and Causes of Acid Reflux

Heartburn is caused when the valve, which is the entranceway to your stomach, does not close properly or flutters. This valve, also known as the lower esophageal sphincter, allows the bile and stomach acid to come up from your stomach into your esophagus when it isn’t closed properly. This causes a painful burning sensation in the chest and esophagus known as heartburn. 

Heartburn itself has many causes, and many of them are due to something you’ve eaten or drank. Even when heartburn is persistent, many times lifestyle changes can simply ward it off. Common causes of heartburn or acid reflux include:

  • Drinking alcohol
  • Drinking carbonated beverages
  • Lying down immediately after eating
  • Eating spicy food
  • Smoking
  • Pregnancy
  • Being overweight
  • Overeating at a sitting 

Generally speaking, many of these causes can be avoided by simple lifestyle changes, such as quitting smoking, cutting back on alcohol, not eating before bedtime, and limiting soda. 

Symptoms of acid reflux disease include not just heartburn but also regurgitation (the feeling that something is coming up into your throat from your stomach). You may also suffer from a dry, wheezy cough or burping. Nausea is also a common symptom.

Differences Between Reflux and GERD

Once-in-a-while heartburn might be easily managed by avoiding spicy food or taking the occasional over-the-counter antacid, but persistent heartburn is another story. Keep in mind that heartburn is a symptom of acid reflux disease, and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is also slightly different. The main difference between regular heartburn and GERD is the frequency. Typically, a person who has GERD suffers from heartburn (and other associated symptoms like regurgitation) several times a week, or even daily. This is at the point where there may be cause for concern. Even with persistent heartburn or reflux, patients may be quick to reach for over-the-counter medications, but these are predominantly for short-term heartburn, and not for long-term use. Some of these medications may have adverse side effects if used on a long-term basis. This is in part why, if you have persistent heartburn, a doctor needs to manage your treatment, as it’s likely a case of GERD. Also, not all patients who suffer from infrequent heartburn will have a progression to GERD.

When to See a Doctor

It’s time to see a doctor if you have heartburn several times a week. In fact, the American College of Gastroenterology classifies GERD as “acid reflux that occurs more than twice a week.” However, the good news is that you may not need medication to manage your GERD or acid reflux—even many who have GERD find that avoidance of food or lifestyle changes do not trigger as many heartburn episodes. It’s just a good idea to check in with your doc because of the persistent nature of the heartburn. Untreated GERD could lead to more serious issues, such as Barrett’s esophagus, so it’s always good to be on the safe side. 

When it comes to non-medicinal treatments, there are a few things you can try in lieu of over-the-counter medications. These home remedies can aid both in occasional and frequent heartburn. Doctors advise simple changes, such as:

  • Limiting your alcohol intake
  • Quitting smoking
  • Not eating after 8pm
  • Drinking plenty of water 
  • Staying active throughout the day
  • Limiting coffee and sugary food
  • Avoiding mint

Of course, those who have GERD may need a stronger intervention, but many of these “home remedies” for GERD are good, healthy pieces of advice across the board, so there’s no harm in trying these. 

If you need more information about acid reflux or heartburn or would like to be seen by a physician, request an appointment at Gastroenterology Consultants of Savannah, P.C. today. You can meet with our caring staff at one of our five Georgia locations or our one South Carolina location.