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Heartburn and Acid Reflux: Will You Have to Suffer Forever?
Wednesday, June 06, 2012
Acid reflux is a condition where food or liquid in the stomach flows back into the esophagus. The acid from the stomach may irritate the esophagus and cause a burning sensation known as heartburn. Silent reflux is when acid is present in the esophagus, but you feel no symptoms (like burning). Robert Palmer, DO, Gastroenterologist at The Everett Clinic, says that occasional acid reflux isn’t dangerous and can often be managed well with over-the-counter treatments.

But, he says, “Chronic acid reflux can be not only uncomfortable, but damaging to your overall health as well.” Untreated chronic acid reflux can lead to scar tissue buildup in the esophagus, Barrett’s esophagus or other health issues including asthma, chronic sinusitis and dental deterioration.

Barrett’s esophagus is thought to be the consequence of prolonged acid reflux in susceptible individuals. Although most people with acid reflux will not develop this complication, Barrett’s has been identified as a precancerous condition. People who have Barrett’s should have periodic examinations with an endoscopy to obtain biopsies. Those at highest risk are white males with a history of tobacco use, though anyone can develop this condition.

If you have chronic acid reflux, your healthcare provider may recommend an endoscopy. Gastroenterologists use an endoscope, a flexible tube with a light and camera on the end, to look at your esophagus and stomach from the inside to help determine the cause of your acid reflux and to assess chronic damage. “Often we find that acid reflux can be treated with lifestyle modification and some medications,” says Dr. Palmer. Lifestyle changes that you can make to help reduce the severity and frequency of your acid reflux include: losing weight, not wearing tight belts or clothing, not eating three hours before bedtime and raising the head of your bed 6-8 inches. It will also help if you stop smoking and limit alcohol intake. Some foods can trigger acid reflux. Decreasing your intake of caffeine, mint, chocolate and highly-acidic foods like tomatoes and citrus may also help. For more information about these and other gastrointestinal related conditions, please visit: everettclinic.com/GI.