Common GI Symptoms

Common GI Symptoms > Heartburn (gastro-esophageal reflux)

What is heartburn?

What is Heartburn?

Heartburn is a sensation of burning in the chest that often travels upwards towards the throat.  It may be accompanied by regurgitation, which is the sensation of liquid going up your esophagus, which is the tube that carries food from your mouth to your stomach. These symptoms are often caused by acid reflux, which is when the acid that is normally in your stomach moves upwards into the esophagus.  Another term for acid reflux is “gastroesophageal reflux disease,” or GERD (see image below).

What are the other symptoms of acid reflux?  

  • Burning in the throat or an acid taste in the throat
  • Stomach or chest pain
  • Trouble swallowing
  • Having a hoarse voice or a sore throat
  • Unexplained cough

Is there anything I can do on my own to improve my symptoms?

You might feel better if you:

  • Lose weight (if you are overweight)
  • Raise the head of your bed during sleeping
  • Avoid foods that make your symptoms worse (examples include coffee, chocolate, alcohol and fatty foods)
  • Cut down on the amount of alcohol you drink
  • Stop smoking, if you smoke
  • Eat 4-5 small meals each day, rather than 2 or 3 big meals
  • Avoid lying down for 3 hours after a meal

What treatments can help with my acid reflux?

There are a few main types of medicines that can help with the symptoms of acid reflux: antacids, histamine blockers, and proton pump inhibitors. All of these medicines work by reducing or blocking stomach acid. But they each do that in a different way.

Antacids can relieve mild symptoms, but they work only for a short time. Histamine blockers are stronger and last longer than antacids. Proton pump inhibitors are the most effective medicines in treating GERD. You can buy antacids without a prescription but Histamine blockers and Proton pump inhibitors require a doctor’s prescription

Should I see a doctor or nurse about my acid reflux?

Some people can manage their acid reflux on their own by changing their habits or taking non-prescription medicines. But you should see a doctor or nurse if:

  • Your symptoms are severe or last a long time
  • You cannot seem to control your symptoms
  • You have had symptoms for many years
  • You have family history of cancer of the esophagus or stomach
  • Have trouble swallowing, or feel as though food gets “stuck” on the way down
  • Lose weight when you are not trying to
  • Vomit blood or have bowel movements that are red, black, or look like tar