From Occasional Discomfort to Chronic Heartburn:
A Complete Guide

Have you ever eaten a big greasy meal, only to suffer from heartburn afterwards? Maybe you’ve popped an antacid in your mouth, hoping it would go away quickly. 

If so, you’re not alone … and while an occasional bout with heartburn can be unpleasant, it isn’t that significant. But if left untreated, chronic heartburn can completely change your quality of life. 

Unfortunately, one in five people in the U.S. have chronic heartburn, and your odds increase as you cross the age of 40. 


Understanding Heartburn, Acid Reflux, and GERD

It’s important to know the difference between occasional and chronic heartburn to get the right diagnosis and treatment. 

So, what is heartburn in general? It’s a burning sensation behind your breastbone, caused by stomach acid flowing back into the esophagus. It may also cause a bitter taste in one’s mouth or occasional unexpected regurgitation.

This reflux of acid can sometimes just be a one-off occurrence, labeled as acid reflux. It may be the result of factors like diet, alcohol, or lying down immediately after eating. 

However, chronic heartburn–which may be diagnosed as Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD) when it occurs more frequently–may resemble occasional heartburn, but it happens more than twice a week, often without an apparent cause, and can damage the lining of the esophagus over time. Over time, worsening damage can make the esophagus narrower, making swallowing difficult. 

There are several things a person can do to help prevent heartburn:

  • Make dietary changes: Avoid spicy and acidic foods, eat smaller meals, and limit caffeine and alcohol.
  • Take physical precautions: Wait 2-3 hours to lie down after eating, elevate the head while sleeping if nighttime heartburn is a problem, and wear non-restrictive clothing.
  • Make lifestyle changes: Maintain a healthy weight, and consider quitting smoking as it can make symptoms worse. 

If you have heartburn no matter how hard you’ve tried to prevent it, over-the-counter (OTC) treatments like antacids can provide immediate relief. For more persistent symptoms, medications like H2 blockers (OTC or prescribed by your doctor if a larger dose is needed) can be beneficial. Always consult with your doctor for recurring symptoms or before starting regular medication.


What to Do if You Think You Have Chronic Heartburn

Chronic symptoms should never be ignored. Beyond the discomfort, there are more pressing reasons to address chronic heartburn. In addition to difficulty swallowing from your esophagus narrowing, increasing damage to your esophagus may eventually lead to serious conditions and even cancer. 

It’s essential to consult with your doctor about your chronic heartburn, so they can discover the root of the problem and provide the appropriate diagnosis and treatment. By discussing your symptoms in depth, your doctor can tailor an approach that addresses the causes, not just the outward symptoms.

The diagnosis often involves referral to a gastroenterologist who can perform tests like endoscopy, where a flexible tube with a camera is used to inspect the esophagus, and pH monitoring, which measures the acidity in your esophagus. 

At Hoag Medical Network, you can join our Compass membership to have our Personal Care Coordinators manage your gastroenterologist referral and quickly schedule your specialist appointment.

Through these assessments, your doctor can gain a comprehensive understanding of your condition, allowing for targeted, effective treatment. Remember, honest and open communication with your doctor is the key to optimal health outcomes.


Take the First Step and Get Treated for Your Chronic Heartburn at Hoag

While occasional heartburn is common and often harmless, you shouldn’t ignore persistent or severe episodes. Allowing chronic heartburn to continue can lead to more serious, long-lasting damage, so it’s crucial to consult a doctor quickly. 

Schedule an appointment at one of Hoag Medical Network’s many convenient locations, where we’re committed to your well-being and offer top-tier treatments and personalized guidance. 

And for more immediate consultations, join our membership program, Hoag Compass, and download the Hoag Compass mobile app, where scheduling a virtual appointment for the same day or the next is a breeze.

Typically, these tests are covered by insurance, though it’s always wise to check coverage specifics based on your doctor’s recommendations.

Remember, it’s not just about treating the symptoms, it’s about reclaiming your quality of life. With Hoag’s state-of-the-art medical care, there’s hope for everyone. Choose health. Choose Hoag.