You may frequently interchange the terms heartburn, acid reflux and GERD, but it’s important to know if your heartburn is chronic and recurring. Heartburn is a symptom we experience when acid from the stomach passes up through the esophageal sphincter into the esophagus, known as acid reflux. For some people this can be acid that passes only a few inches up the esophagus or all the way to the mouth. When acid from your stomach comes up as high as your mouth, you run the risk of aspiration (when fluids either going down to your stomach or coming up from your stomach enters your trachea and into your lungs).
Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is described as severe or chronic acid reflux. Severe means that it happens when we have had a change in our body, like a pregnancy that causes pressure on our stomach forcing stomach content up into the esophagus. Chronic may mean there is a mechanical problem like a weak esophageal sphincter or a hiatal hernia that allows leakage into the esophagus.
Whether intermittent, severe or chronic, acid reflux can feel miserable if it is not controlled and it can also cause cancer. We all suffer from heartburn from time to time, but when heartburn happens regularly or does not resolve with lifestyle or diet changes you may need to seek the assistance of a physician who can help you resolve it. Thankfully over the last 20 years, physicians’ ability to diagnose and treat these conditions has benefited by some excellent technology.
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