Americans have been saturated with enough magazine ads and TV commercials to know that heartburn occasionally goes by the name GERD, or gastroesophageal reflux disease.
The names aren’t quite interchangeable, and the National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse (NDDIC) is helpful at putting it into anatomical terms: Occasional heartburn is GER, gastroesophageal reflux, which is when the lower esophageal sphincter opens spontaneously or does not close properly and lets stomach contents rise up into the esophagus.
GERD is a more serious form of GER and is defined as persistent reflux that occurs more than twice a week.
Over-the-counter medications often do the trick for simple heartburn, say, when you have eaten too huge of a meal or have overloaded on spicy foods. You can end up with that burning sensation behind your breastbone and into your chest and throat, along with an overall sluggishness. Maybe you can even still taste the food you indulged in at the back of your mouth.
Seeing as how digestive juices, or acids, have backed up from your stomach into your esophagus, it’s not surprising that the other common moniker for your condition is acid indigestion.
But GER sometimes can become more than a minor annoyance and even a symptom of a larger problem, and you ought to seek advice from your healthcare practitioner. That’s especially true if heartburn hits you on a regular basis, or impacts your physical activities or social life.
Doctors have several tools at their disposal for evaluating GERD. Usually it begins with a series of questions on your eating habits, activities, severity of heartburn symptoms, family history and general lifestyle. A prescription medication might be all that is needed.
If heartburn problems lead you to a gastroenterologist, though, here are a few options:
-- An upper gastrointestinal endoscopy, using a thin, flexible tube to view your esophagus and the first part of your small intestine.
-- Manometry testing, which looks at how well the muscles in your esophagus are moving food into the stomach and whether the lower esophageal sphincter, or valve, is closing tightly enough.