Is My Acid Reflux a Sign of Something Serious?

Most people experience acid reflux from time to time. You might notice acid reflux— commonly known as heartburn—after enjoying a spicy meal, fried foods, or caffeinated beverages. For some patients, however, regular acid reflux can signal the presence of a chronic condition known as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).

Bergen Medical Associates provides care in a variety of medical specialties under one roof in several locations throughout northern New Jersey. Here, we offer information about this condition and discuss signs that indicate someone should see a gastroenterologist.

Seated patient talking with doctor while describing acid reflux symptoms

What Is Acid Reflux?

Acid reflux occurs when the contents of a person’s stomach backflow into their esophagus. Typically, digestive juices help break down food in the stomach so it can move into the small intestine. The lower esophageal sphincter (LES) helps keep food in the stomach. However, if it does not close properly, stomach contents can move up into the esophagus. The terms heartburn and acid reflux are often used interchangeably, but heartburn is a symptom of acid reflux. It is the painful, burning feeling in the chest or throat caused by the stomach acid in the esophagus.

Signs and symptoms of acid reflux can vary from patient to patient. Most people experience heartburn, as well as a sour or bitter taste in the mouth. Other symptoms can include:

  • Bloating
  • Hiccuping or burping
  • Nausea
  • The feeling of a lump in your throat or chest

GERD is a more serious, frequent form of acid reflux that can cause chronic inflammation in the esophagus. Over time, this ongoing irritation and inflammation caused by stomach acid in the esophageal lining can result in symptoms such as:

  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Chronic cough
  • Asthma
  • Ulcers
  • Damage to tooth enamel

Left untreated, GERD can even increase a patient’s risk of esophageal cancer.

What Are the Risk Factors for Acid Reflux?

Some patients are more likely than others to develop acid reflux. Risk factors for this condition include:

  • Tobacco use: Patients who smoke are more likely to have acid reflux.
  • Pregnancy: Heartburn is a common condition among pregnant women.
  • Hiatal hernia: This condition, in which the upper part of the stomach moves above the diaphragm, can cause acid reflux.
  • Obesity: Patients who are overweight may have a higher risk of acid reflux.
  • Medications: Some medications, specifically those that target weight loss, can increase the chances of developing acid reflux.
  • Lifestyle factors: Certain habits like eating late at night or lying down after eating can trigger or aggravate acid reflux.

What Are Acid Reflux Triggers?

Certain foods or beverages are common triggers of acid reflux symptoms. These include:

  • Acidic foods like tomatoes, lemons, limes, and oranges
  • Salty, high-fat, or highly processed foods
  • Spices like chili powder or pepper
  • Cheese and other dairy products
  • Peppermint
  • Carbonated drinks
  • Coffee
  • Alcohol

Acid reflux can also be a side effect of certain over-the-counter and prescription medications.

When Should Someone See a Gastroenterologist?

Acid reflux is common, and occasional reflux or heartburn triggered by certain foods probably isn’t cause for concern. However, it’s best to make an appointment with a gastroenterologist if you:

  • Have frequent or painful acid reflux that interferes with daily life.
  • Take over-the-counter medication for acid reflux several times a week.
  • Have difficulty swallowing or feel like food is stuck in the throat.
  • Experience weight loss.

What might seem like heartburn could be a more serious condition, such as GERD, so it is wise to have a doctor examine you.

Choose Bergen Medical Associates

If you’re experiencing frequent acid reflux, it may be time to see a gastroenterologist. Serving patients throughout northern New Jersey, Bergen Medical Associates has a dedicated team of board-certified gastroenterology specialists. As an area leader in comprehensive gastroenterology care, our knowledgeable providers can diagnose and treat a wide range of conditions that affect the digestive system, including

Bergen Medical Associates has six locations throughout northern New Jersey, allowing patients to receive convenient care for a wide variety of specialties close to home. To request an appointment, contact us today.

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