Heartburn is a common problem, especially for Americans. We eat too much, we eat things that are greasy or spicy and promote heartburn, and many of us are overweight, which doesn't help our case. For many people, heartburn is a fairly preventable thing that they just don't bother to prevent because they'd rather eat what they want. However, for some people, heartburn is a symptom of a more serious digestive disorder called Gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD.
GERD is when the stomach's digestive juices flow backward into the esophagus. Since the esophagus isn't really made to handle the harsh acidic juices, it becomes inflamed (heartburn) and can cause damage if not treated.
People with GERD usually have a problem with their esophageal sphincter. When most people swallow, a valve opens to let food through, then closes and seals to keep things from getting back out. However, people suffering from GERD have a problem with that seal. Because it stays relaxed instead of tightly keeping things down, the acids can come up and irritate the esophagus. If this continues, it can cause an ulcer - an open sore in the esophagus.
People with GERD suffer from heartburn daily, not just when they eat hotwings or eat right before bed. Other symptoms include:
If you feel that you may have GERD, you should see a doctor for a diagnoses. Sometimes, it may be only a matter of medications you are taking that loosen the sphincter, but in some cases, you may have a problem that needs attention. Without treatment, GERD can be a long term problem, but with simple treatments (or with some more serious treatments if the problem is very difficult to control) you can prevent major long-term problems.