Heartburn has nothing to do with your heart, but it sure feels like it. That’s because your esophagus is situated in your chest near your heart, so when stomach acid backflows into your esophagus, the location of the burning sensation can be confusing.
This acidic backflow can occur occasionally, after a large meal or one that produces a lot of gas. Spicy foods and alcohol can also trigger reflux, as can lying down immediately after eating.
But acid reflux is different. This occurs when the sphincter at the bottom of your esophagus is damaged or weakened, so it can’t keep your stomach acid down.
If you don’t treat acid reflux properly, it can lead to an advanced form called gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), which may, in turn, lead to serious complications, such as ulcers and scarring in your esophagus, esophageal strictures that narrow your esophagus, Barrett’s esophagus, or even cancer.
To help you prevent these potentially dangerous health problems, our team of specialists at Surgical Consultants of Northern Virginia in Reston, Virginia, want you to know the seven most common signs of acid reflux, so you can get treatment right away.
Know your risks for acid reflux
Acid reflux affects about 20% of all people in the United States — young and old, men and women, and people from all ethnicities and backgrounds. That said, some people are more prone to acid reflux than others. A few factors that can weaken your esophagus include:
- Being overweight or obese
- Being pregnant
- Using certain medications
Age also tends to weaken muscles throughout your body, and that includes your lower esophageal sphincter (LES), so after age 40, you may notice the onset of acid reflux.
Certain congenital abnormalities can also result in a weak or deformed LES that leads to chronic acid reflux or GERD.
Signs of acid reflux
Antacids and a few lifestyle changes can relieve temporary heartburn, but acid reflux that results from a problem in your LES needs medical attention. Here are seven symptoms of acid reflux you should watch for.
As stomach acid creeps up past your LES, it irritates the lining and causes a burning sensation.
Acid isn’t the only thing that can sneak past your LES. Sometimes, partially digested food makes its way past the “gate” and into your throat or mouth.
When you eat, a certain amount of air enters your stomach too. And when your stomach digests food, it creates gasses. Normally, your LES stays tightly shut and keeps the air and gas down, but if your LES is weak, the gas pushes through, and you burp — a lot.
4. Chest pain
Chest pain can be scary, as it’s one of the main symptoms of a heart attack. But it’s easy to tell the difference between acid reflux and a heart attack.
Acid reflux produces a burning sensation that may also affect your throat and leave a bad taste in your mouth.
Heart attacks cause outright pain that radiates to your neck and jaw and arms. You may also experience nausea, shortness of breath, sweating, and lightheadedness.
5. Sore throat and hoarse voice
Over time, the rogue stomach acids irritate your esophageal tissues and give you an ongoing sore throat. It may also affect your voice — a condition called reflux laryngitis — and cause you to speak with a raspy, hoarse voice.
6. Chronic coughing
Acid reflux can make you feel as if you have a lump in your throat, which is usually nothing more than excess mucus that won’t clear, so you cough frequently, attempting to expel it. However, coughs due to acid reflux are typically nonproductive.
7. Sleep problems
When you lie down, especially if it’s immediately following a meal, it exacerbates your acid reflux because your stomach contents don’t have to fight gravity to push past your LES. Acid reflux attacks in the middle of the night can disturb your sleep.
But studies also show that poor sleep quality can trigger more frequent and severe acid reflux flare-ups — a condition called reflux hypersensitivity.
How to treat acid reflux
If any of these symptoms sound familiar, it’s time to seek medical attention to find out if your LES and/or your esophagus have been damaged.
If it has, you may be a good candidate for a surgical procedure called Nissen fundoplication. Our highly experienced surgeons perform this procedure often and with great success. The concept is simple: we wrap the upper portion of your stomach around the bottom of your esophagus to give extra support to your weakened LES.
The procedure is done laparoscopically, so your scars are minimal and your recovery is short.
To find out if surgery can stop your acid reflux or GERD, schedule a consultation with our team today by calling our office at 571-512-5300 or booking an appointment online.