It's totally freaky, but if you always thought heartburn was just heartburn, you may be in for a surprise. Most of the time it is, but for some folks it's really gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), a really annoying condition that can potentially lead to other scary illnesses like asthma, lung infection, inflammation of the esophagus and even cancer.
GERD is caused by the reflux of stomach contents back into the esophagus, and when those are high in acid it becomes a more serious problem.
Once you get GERD, many say, it usually becomes a lifelong problem, meaning you will need treatment for the rest of your life. Is that so?
What the experts day
"Eating greasy fast food can cause more acid to move from the stomach to the esophagus. Lower fat intake , eat more whole grain breads and cereals , fresh vegetables and low-acid fruits like peaches , pears , plums and berries . Skipping meals, then eating a large one in the evening can aggravate problems. Spread meals throughout the day . Painful foods not well tolerated include spices, citrus fruits and juices, vinegar-based products, onions, mint, chocolate, caffeine beverages, wine (white is often more acidic than red) and alcoholic spirits. Being overweight can aggravate symptoms. You can often treat mild symptoms by adjusting diet and increasing exercise , along with occasional use of over-the-counter antacid medications . "
BARBARA WENDLAND , dietitian, author, Chronic Heartburn: Managing Acid Reflux And GERD Through Understanding, Diet And Lifestyle, Toronto
"Factors that may exacerbate reflux include certain foods; medications like calcium channel blockers, nitrates and beta blockers; recreational drugs like tobacco; obesity and increasing age. Although the most common symptom of reflux is pain, a small percentage of persons will experience irritation to the tissue of the esophagus to the degree that cellular change will occur there. This predisposes them to adenocarcinoma [cancer]. Manage stress , chew food thoroughly and eat slowly . Don't eat large meals before sleeping , and sleep with your head elevated . To soothe and heal tissue, use a tincture or tea of herbs that have anti-inflammatory properties: camomile , calendula , marshmallow , slippery elm and mallow ."
JONAH LUSIS , naturopath, Toronto
"If you have acid reflux, you have too much agni, or fire, in the digestive system. People should limit salty, fried, sour, fermented and spicy foods. Just avoiding those foods will bring relief to 70 per cent for sure. Then you can try a glass of water with half a teaspoon of cumin seed powde r, half a teaspoon of coriander seed powder, 1 teaspoon of fennel seed powder and 7 or 8 black currants or dried black grapes and 1 teaspoon of raw sugar. Some can try a glass of milk with 1 teaspoon of ghee. Or 1 or 2 teaspoons of aloe vera gel with a pinch of baking soda. That will have a soothing effect. So will coconut water ."
SONAL BHATT , Ayurvedic practitioner, Toronto
"Conventional treatments are medicines like H2-receptor antagonists . The most effective meds are the proton pump inhibitors [a family of drugs used to treat stomach ulcers]. If acid suppression doesn't work, surgery can be done, but it's not always successful. Twenty per cent of people in the West have reflux at least once a week, and about 10 per cent have it daily. It's said that if people would just lay off the pizza and beer they'd get well, but according to a study in the Canadian Journal of Gastroenterology, lifestyle and diet do not have an impact on the symptoms of extreme sufferers. It is a functional problem. We do tell people to modify lifestyle and diet, because in a mild case it could help."
GAIL ATTARA , executive director, Canadian Society of Intestinal Research, Vancouver