Thanksgiving means different things to people, but to gastrointestinal specialists, the holiday is associated with one specific health condition – heartburn. Millions of Americans have experienced heartburn or acid reflux on at least once occasion, and considering that overeating is one of the driving factors behind the condition, the Thanksgiving holiday is a big time for flare ups. But just how serious is heartburn? Is it something you should learn to live with, or is it a precursor to a more serious condition? We answer those questions and more in today’s blog.
When Is Heartburn A Problem?
Many people don’t think that heartburn is all that serious of a problem because it tends to ebb and flow, and symptoms eventually resolve. Most people think that if they can’t make it through a short uncomfortable period, that’s the worst of it. Unfortunately, the discomfort you’re feeling during a heartburn flareup isn’t just a temporary problem.
The discomfort you’re feeling is caused by stomach acid making its way back up into the lower part of your esophageal canal. Stomach acid is a powerful substance that helps to begin the digestive process and break down foods, and your stomach lining is specifically designed such that this powerful acid doesn’t damage the organ. However, if this acid works its way back up through the esophageal sphincter and into your esophageal canal, these tissues don’t have the same protective lining. This acid can damage the sensitive tissue in the area and cause problems for your health.
Heartburn is kind of akin to a sunburn that you might experience in the summer. If you experience a flare up after a Thanksgiving meal or a couple times a year after eating large or spicy meals, it’s probably nothing to be too worried about. Your tissues are strong and tend to heal well from a once-in-blue-moon exposure to stomach acid.
When Heartburn Becomes Problematic
However, heartburn becomes more problematic when it becomes more intense and consistent. Because just like sunburn, repeated exposure continues the cycle of damage to healthy tissue and can greatly increase your likelihood of developing severe tissue damage or cancer. A good rule of thumb to live by is if you are experiencing heartburn more than once a week or more than five times a month, you should talk with your general practitioner or a gastrointestinal specialist.
It’s especially important to have this conversation when you consider how easy treatment tends to be in the earliest stage compared to how hard problems can be to treat in late stages. For many individuals dealing with minor cases of heartburn, all they may need are medication and some small dietary changes. Not only can this help to reduce your risk or serious esophageal health problems, but it can also make day to day life easier. Simple lifestyles adjustments can help you greatly improve your quality of life, as long as you take the time to talk to a specialist about your heartburn.
Left untreated, heartburn symptoms tend to get worse and the problems become more difficult to treat, so don’t just grit your teeth and try to ignore your discomfort. Having heartburn a couple times a year generally isn’t serious, although you should keep an eye on the problem, but if heartburn attacks become more frequent, be proactive and talk to a specialist. It can make all the difference in how successful treatment can be.
For more information about heartburn, or to set up a consultation with a gastrointestinal specialist, reach out to Dr. Bhatti’s office today.