Once you swallow a bite, food travels through the esophagus to the stomach. A valve-like ring of muscle called the lower esophageal sphincter opens to let the food in. Then it’s supposed to close again to prevent stomach acids from sliding up into the esophagus.
In some people, the sphincter between the stomach and esophagus doesn’t work as well as it should. This allows acid to seep into the esophagus (called acid reflux), where it can cause pain and irritation. Not everyone with acid reflux suffers from heartburn, and some people with “heartburn” symptoms don’t actually have acid reflux but may have some other condition causing this pain.
The hallmark of acid reflux is heartburn — a painful burning sensation in the middle of the chest. Heartburn typically strikes after meals and can last several hours. The discomfort may be worse after bending over or lying down. Other symptoms of severe acid reflux include a sour-tasting fluid in the back of the throat, difficulty swallowing, or feeling that food is stuck in the chest or throat. A chronic cough or asthma attacks can also be caused by acid reflux. A description of heartburn symptoms is usually all that’s needed to diagnose acid reflux.
Heartburn usually doesn’t pose a serious threat to your health. However, complications can occur with severe, frequent, and persistent acid reflux. If you have severe heartburn or heartburn two or more times a week, you may have a condition called GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease) and you should see your doctor. Without treatment, chronic GERD can cause inflammation, ulcers, and scarring. GERD can also lead to changes in the cells lining the esophagus. Known as Barrett’s esophagus (shown here), these changes raise the risk of esophageal cancer.
Adopting lifestyle changes usually allows the body to heal itself in the majority of cases, and it means there won’t be long-term damage to the esophagus, throat, or teeth. However, sometimes lifestyle changes are not enough. More serious cases of GERD can often be treated with medications such as: antacids or surgery may be needed.
From Web MD