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What You Need To Know About Heartburn


At some point, many of us will have a case of heartburn that can be easily fixed. However, Dr. Christian Mayorga of Parkland Hospital and UT Southwestern Medical Center explains why heartburn is not always something to take lightly. 

Highlights from Dr. Mayorga’s interview:

What exactly is heartburn? “Heartburn is one symptom that’s associated the refluxing of contents from the stomach into the esophagus. So, its job is to propel food into the stomach. Where the esophagus meets the stomach, there’s a circular ring keeping food out of the esophagus and in the stomach once it passes the stomach. For some people, this ring is weak, allowing contents from the stomach up into the esophagus, and that’s what we call refluxing. Some of the symptoms associated with that reflux includes heartburn – the sensation of burning in the middle of the chest.”

What triggers heartburn? “We’re starting to see that some people are genetically predisposed. But there are other things that are well within our control. Obesity is tightly tied to heartburn. Smoking is positively correlated with heartburn symptoms as well. There are certain foods that make the symptoms of reflux worse: Caffeinated beverages (coffee, tea), caffeinated soft drinks, carbonated soft drinks, citrus foods in some people, spicy foods, fatty foods.”

Treatment of heartburn: “Nowadays we have very good drugs targeting the production of acid in the stomach. That class of drugs are called PPIs or proton pump inhibitors. There are both prescription and over-the-counter medications, such as Prilosec, Nexium, the purple pill. They work very well as long as the patient is taking it appropriately. And so it’s important to take the pill 30 to 60 minutes before you eat your meal to reduce the amount of acid in the stomach. If you don’t get relief from certain things that in the past had worked for you, such as avoiding certain foods or if you’re dependent on certain medications, I think at that point it’s important to talk to your doctor about it."

How serious can heartburn be? “It can lead to imflammatory strictures or narrowing in the esophagus, which can cause issues with swallowing. Also barrett’s esophagus, a pre-cancerous condition. That’s why it’s important to be very ,much aware when your symptoms aren’t very well controlled or if they get worse because it may be time to do something more definitive about it.”

For more information:

Heartburn - Medline Plus (U.S. National Library of Medicine) 

We examine real-life health issues each Monday in Vital Signs. Explore previous topics here.

Sam Baker is KERA's senior editor and local host for Morning Edition. The native of Beaumont, Texas, also edits and produces radio commentaries and Vital Signs, a series that's part of the station's Breakthroughs initiative. He also was the longtime host of KERA 13’s Emmy Award-winning public affairs program On the Record. He also won an Emmy in 2008 for KERA’s Sharing the Power: A Voter’s Voice Special, and has earned honors from the Associated Press and the Public Radio News Directors Inc.