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Heartburn/GERD Health Center

Treatment Tips for Severe, Chronic Heartburn

If you have chronic heartburn or acid reflux, try these heartburn treatments from the experts.
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No matter what you eat, you worry that chronic heartburn will always be there. You've tried all the antacids, followed a bland diet, given up on certain foods completely. But still you wake up in the middle of the night, sometimes with pain deep in your throat, other times with a sore throat and trouble breathing, as if you were having an asthma attack. You try to sleep sitting up in a chair, and realize with dismay: This has been going on for years.

Is It Chronic Heartburn or GERD?

When severe heartburn and acid reflux happen nearly all the time, it could be GERD, or gastroesophageal reflux disease, says the American Gastroenterological Association (AGA). GERD is the chronic form of acid reflux, when food and stomach acids "burp" back up from your stomach after eating.

Chronic sufferers often have other symptoms, as well: a sore throat, cough, asthma symptoms, and laryngitis. Left untreated, constant heartburn and GERD can result in permanent damage to the esophagus -- even cancer of the esophagus.

Treatment for Chronic Heartburn

As with any kind of heartburn, start by looking at what you're eating and when, says Tara O'Brien, PharmD, a pharmacy manager at Pharmaca in Seattle, a national, integrative pharmacy combining Western medicine with self-care.

Are you overindulging in spicy foods like tomato sauce and pizza? Citric foods like orange or grapefruit juice? Overly large meals just before bed, or too many cups of coffee or alcoholic drinks? It can't hurt to cut back -- or cut them out completely. Here are a few self-care tips:

  • Try eating smaller meals, and don't eat two to three hours before bedtime.
  • Avoid foods that may trigger heartburn, such as fried food, citrus, tomato, spices, peppermint, chocolate, and carbonated drinks.
  • Cut back on alcohol and caffeine.
  • Stop smoking if you smoke.
  • Lose weight if your doctor says you're overweight.
  • Cut back on aspirin and pain relievers if you take them often.

When you have chronic heartburn, however, diet and lifestyle changes usually aren't enough to provide relief, O'Brien says. It may be time to find the right medication for your heartburn symptoms.

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