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When Is Acid Reflux a Serious Problem?

When Is Acid Reflux a Serious Problem?

Heartburn involves pain or pressure in your chest, often accompanied by an unpleasant taste in the back of your throat. Medically, it is called acid reflux. Acid reflux happens when the lower esophageal sphincter malfunctions and allows stomach acid to pass through the lower esophagus. 

Acid reflux is common, especially among individuals who eat lots of fried or fatty foods, drink acidic beverages, or are overweight. Our experts at Northern Medical Group Gastroenterology Division in Fishkill, Poughkeepsie, and Highland, New York, are knowledgeable and equipped to help you manage your acid reflux if the symptoms bother you. 

Some acid reflux occurs on occasion, like when you overeat or because of certain foods. However, acid reflux can also indicate more significant digestive issues. Here’s how you can tell if your acid reflux is severe.

Pay attention to the frequency of your acid reflux

Heartburn, on occasion, is normal. When heartburn and other symptoms of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) happen every day or after every meal, it’s time to visit our team. 

Without treatment, the acid from your stomach can disintegrate the lining of the esophagus, which can lead to a chronic condition called Barrett’s esophagus that increases your risk of esophageal cancer. 

Hiccups or coughs could indicate a separate issue

If you experience acid reflux symptoms alongside persistent hiccuping or uncontrollable coughing, a hiatal hernia may be worsening your symptoms. A hiatal hernia is the result of a portion of your stomach passing through a hole in the diaphragm — the muscle in your core that contracts to help you breathe. 

Hiatal hernias do not cause GERD and vice versa. However, our experts note that the two conditions often show up together. Possible complications of untreated hiatal hernias include breathing problems and reduced blood flow to the stomach. 

It’s best to play it safe when your symptoms are severe

Acid reflux accounts for around 22-66% of emergency visits involving chest pain.

That said, you should err on the side of caution if you have tightness or a crushing sensation in your chest, or if the heartburn appears different or generally worse than other times you’ve experienced it.

Seek emergency care if you experience symptoms of acid reflux coupled with shortness of breath, dizziness, or radiating pain through your arm, neck, or jaw. These are symptoms of a heart attack, which you don’t want to mistakenly pass off as acid reflux. 

If you have digestive symptoms, like blood in your stools or black-colored vomit, alongside symptoms similar to acid reflux, you might have bleeding in your stomach. That is a medical emergency. 

Ready to learn more?

Occasional heartburn can have a diverse range of possible causes and usually doesn’t require medical care. If your heartburn becomes persistent, schedule an appointment with us at Northern Medical Group Gastroenterology Division by phone or online today.

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