Treatment Tips for Severe Chronic Heartburn

If you feel uncomfortable in the middle of your chest every time you finish a meal, you may have chronic heartburn. This is when the acid from your stomach leaks up into the tender tissue of your esophagus (food pipe), causing pain and burning. You need treatment. If you don’t control your heartburn, it could damage your esophagus and even lead to cancer. There are some simple ways to make sure this doesn’t happen to you.

Watch What You Eat, Drink, and Do

Making some changes to your lifestyle can go a long way toward easing the pain of heartburn.

Say goodbye to cigarettes.  Smoking causes your body to make less saliva, a liquid that helps stamp out stomach acid. That can lead to burning in your esophagus. Tobacco may also cause your stomach to make more acid and relax the muscles at the lower end of your esophogas that can shut down the opening between the stomach and the esophagus. Chewing gum and sucking on lozenges can help you make more saliva.

Avoid trigger foods. For many people, these are spicy and high-fat foods, chocolate, peppermint and other mints, coffee, citrus fruits or juices, tomato products, carbonated drinks, and onions.

Don’t lie down after you eat. If you need an afternoon siesta, snooze upright (or almost upright) in a chair. Eat dinner at least 2-3 hours before you go to bed, and don’t make the last meal of the day your biggest one.

Raise the head of your bed. If the top of your bed is higher than the bottom, it’s harder for the acid to travel up. You can do this with a block of wood under the bed or a foam wedge under the mattress.

Be careful what medications you use. Aspirin, ibuprofen, and other medications, such as some sedatives and blood pressure drugs, can trigger heartburn. Ask your doctor if any of your medications might be causing your symptoms. There may be something else you can take.

Eat several small meals during the day. Your stomach produces acid based on how much food you eat. Less food means less acid. Don’t overload your stomach.

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Limit alcohol.  Alcohol can relax the muscles around the lower end of your esophogas, making it easier for acid to bubble up.

Stay slim. One study found that overweight people who lost weight were more likely to have their heartburn go away. Another reason to lose weight: You’ll respond better to heartburn medications.

Wear loose clothing. Tight clothing, including belts, can cause stomach contents to push upward.

Relax. Stress causes stomach acid to bubble up.

Treatments

If you have chronic severe heartburn, you may need medications. Both over-the-counter and prescription drugs are available.

Antacids are usually the first type of drugs doctors recommend for chronic heartburn. You can get them over the counter. They work by stamping out the acid in your stomach. Antacids work right away, but they don’t last long. They also don’t help a damaged esophagus heal. Look for products that have both magnesium and aluminum salts. They’re less likely to cause diarrhea and constipation.

H2 blockers are available over the counter and by prescription. Although they don’t kick in as quickly as antacids, they last longer. They work by slowing down how much acid your stomach makes. They include cimetidine (Tagamet), famotidine (Pepcid), and ranitidine (Zantac).

Proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) also block acid production. You can get them over the counter or with a prescription.

You may need more than one type of medication. Talk to your doctor about the best treatment plan for you. Make sure you’re aware of the side effects of all the medication you take.

Surgery

The most common surgery for extreme heartburn is fundoplication. The surgeon wraps the top of your stomach around the bottom of your esophagus to strengthen it and help keep the acid where it belongs. This often can be done laparoscopically -- it involves only a small cut and typically lets you go home in 3 days or less.

Endoscopic Treatment

The goal of this treatment is the same as surgery. But instead, your doctor puts a thin tube called an endoscope down your throat and into your esophagus. He then use stitches or heat to create scar tissue to tighten the sphincter and stop stomach acid from leaking.

Newer treatments involve using implants (almost like a retaining wall) to keep acid from seeping out of the stomach. There’s not a lot of information yet on how safe they are or how well they work in the long run.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Jennifer Robinson, MD on January 18, 2017

Sources

SOURCES:

American College of Gastroenterology: “Acid Reflux.”

uptodate.com: “Patient education: Acid reflux (gastroesophageal reflux disease) in adults (Beyond the Basics),” "Medical management of gastroesophageal reflux disease in adults."

American Academy of Family Physicians: “Heartburn.”

National Health Service UK: “Heartburn and gastro-oesophageal reflux disease (GORD) -- Treatment.”

Obesity: “Weight Loss Can Lead to Resolution of Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease Symptoms: A Prospective Intervention Trial.”

Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality: “Treatment Options for GERD or Acid Reflux Disease: A Review of the Research for Adults.”

Kaiser Permanente: “Heartburn.”

Mayo Clinic: “Heartburn.”

Cleveland Clinic: “GERD or Acid Reflux or Heartburn Overview.”

National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases: “Treatment for GER & GERD.”

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