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by James Thomas, Saturday, June 11, 2016 | Categories: General Health

Heartburn: Should I be Worried?

Heartburn is a very common complaint, which results in an uncomfortable burning sensation in both the chest and throat. In the great majority of instances, heartburn is not a cause for serious concern, as it is normally temporary and will just disappear on its own without the need for medical treatment - other than perhaps popping an antacid pill to relieve the symptoms.

However, heartburn can on rare occasions be a sign of a much more serious problem or illness. This makes it vital to be aware of the difference between normal heartburn that can be simply treated and otherwise ignored, and the kind of heartburn that would suggest it is a good idea to visit a doctor as soon as possible.

Take note of your symptoms

A burning sensation in the chest and/or throat is the classic symptom of heartburn, but other symptoms can also manifest themselves such as nausea, increased belching and possibly even vomiting. Take note of these symptoms and keep a record over them over several weeks, in order to be able to recognise patterns in your episodes.

You should also compare the extent of the severity of your current instance of heartburn to previous occasions when you have suffered from the condition. Severe pain could indicate something much more serious than standard heartburn, including a heart attack. Identify whether the pain is sharp or dull in nature. Dull pain is a strong indication that you are indeed suffering from heartburn, while a sharper pain should result in you immediately seeking medical attention.

Likewise it is important to note whether the pain is continuous or intermittent. The latter is again a strong indication that the discomfort is the result of heartburn, while the former is a sign you may need immediate medical aid. The position of the pain can also be an important factor. If the pain does not stay in one place but appears to radiate out to other parts of the body such as your shoulders, back, jaw, arms and neck, you need to call for assistance or reach an emergency room straight away, as you may be experiencing a heart attack.

Possible causes

Sometimes heartburn and acid reflux can be caused by medications. The types of medication that can cause this reaction include:

  • Antidepressants
  • Antibiotics
  • Nitroglycerin
  • Pain relievers
  • Anti-anxiety medicine
  • High blood pressure medication
  • Osteoporosis medicine

If you suffer from ongoing and frequent instances of heartburn and believe they may be being caused by your medications, discuss the possibility of changing them for something different with your doctor. You should however never just stop taking prescription medicine without having consulted with your doctor.

When to see a doctor

If your heartburn is beginning to have an adverse impact on your everyday life, then it is time to call your GP or use an online service such as ours.

You should also seek medical help if your heartburn comes with a persistent cough, as this indicates you may be suffering from gastro-oesophageal reflux. If the cough lasts more than a couple of weeks you should see a doctor, but you may want to go even earlier if the cough also comes with wheezing and breathlessness. Likewise if you have been taking antacids for your heartburn for several weeks, and your situation does not seem to have changed or improved, you should see your doctor.

For women, heartburn can sometimes be caused by pregnancy. A combination of pressure on the stomach and hormones tends to be responsible, and commonly takes place in the third trimester. Talk to a doctor if you are pregnant and suffering persistent heartburn. If you only suffer from the occasional bout there are some simple things you can do to avoid the condition, such as:

  • Avoiding fatty, greasy and spicy foods
  • Waiting to lie down at least an hour after having consumed food
  • Eating five or six smaller meals during the day rather than three large ones

If you are having trouble swallowing, your oesophagus could have been damaged by gastric acid. This puts you in serious danger of choking, so contact a doctor immediately. Any unexplained major weight loss should be medically investigated, particularly if you also have heartburn.

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