Heartburn Health (cont.)

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Heartburn Symptoms

Heartburn is a burning feeling in the chest. The sensation may spread up into the throat, jaw, arms, or back. That's why heartburn is often mistaken for chest pain due to a heart attack. However, if a person is having chest pain for any reason, seek medical attention immediately.

Heartburn (often called acid indigestion) typically occurs 30-60 minutes after meals. The pain is worse when lying down, bending forward, and straining to pass stools. The pain is relieved by standing upright, swallowing saliva or water, or by taking antacids.

  • If small amounts of stomach acid or food travel beyond the esophagus and up into the mouth, the person may experience a bitter or sour taste (regurgitation). Regurgitation is common after meals, especially if the person is lying down, bending over, or straining.
  • Stomach acid can also affect the respiratory tract, causing asthma, hoarseness, chronic cough, sore throat, or tooth damage (acid eats the enamel on teeth). The person may feel as if he or she has a lump in the throat.
  • If the acid reflux continues for long periods of time, the esophagus becomes damaged. The person may have difficulty swallowing. In more serious cases, weight loss and dehydration occur. Very rarely, the esophagus may bleed or tear completely because it is so damaged. In severe cases, the person may vomit blood or have small amounts of blood in bowel movements.

When to Seek Medical Care

Call your doctor if heartburn continues despite lifestyle modifications and use of antacids or low doses of acid blockers. Call a doctor if a person has heartburn more than three times a week for over 2 weeks. The doctor will prescribe medications or make other recommendations to help the pain.

Seek emergency medical care. Chronic heartburn can sometimes lead to serious complications that require immediate medical attention. Go to a hospital's emergency department if you have any of the following symptoms:

  • Throwing up blood or passing blood in the stools
  • Chest pain
  • Severe pain, dizziness, or lightheadedness
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Shortness of breath
  • Dehydration
  • Unintentional weight loss

NOTE: The pain of heartburn can often be confused with pain that is actually due to more serious heart problems, such as a heart attack. If you or a family member has a history of heart disease, be aware of this possibility. If pain is accompanied by sweating, nausea, vomiting, difficulty breathing, or worsens with activity, you may have your heart evaluated immediately.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 4/21/2014

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