January 31, 2018 7 min read

Frequent heartburn is not something that should be ignored. Oftentimes, it’s caused by stomach acid refluxing into your esophagus and irritating the esophageal lining. Acid reflux symptoms like heartburn should be taken seriously, as prolonged acid exposure has been linked to serious health consequences .

The next time you wonder, “Is heartburn dangerous?” think about what is occurring in your digestive and upper respiratory pathways. What damage is being done? Keeping stomach acid out of your esophagus is essential if you want to improve your quality of life, prevent serious damage, and maintain your long-term health.

In this article, we’ll go over the types of complications that are often associated with heartburn and acid reflux, in addition to reviewing your different treatment options. Read on to learn all about the dangers of these conditions or skip to any section by clicking on one of the links below:

Diagnosing Acid Reflux Disease

Acid reflux disease, also known as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), is a common digestive condition that causes sufferers to experience acid reflux, and oftentimes heartburn, on a regular basis. Approximately 20% of the population suffers from GERD. It’s a condition that’s typically caused by a problem with the lower esophageal sphincter (LES), which separates your esophagus from your stomach.

Approximately 20% of Americans suffer from GERD

Under normal circumstances, your LES opens to allow food to enter your stomach and then closes once the food has passed, preventing acid reflux and regurgitation. But a malfunctioning LES may not close tightly enough, and this makes it possible for acidic stomach contents to seep into your esophagus, resulting in acid reflux, heartburn, nausea, and more.

Your doctor may be able to diagnose you with GERD based on the symptoms you’ve been experiencing and a physical exam. Common GERD symptoms include:

  • Heartburn
  • Regurgitation of food
  • Chest pain
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Feeling of a lump in your throat

If the doctor isn’t able to make a clear diagnosis based on your symptoms and a physical exam, then they may employ other diagnostic methods to be certain. For example, your doctor may conduct an upper endoscopy, where they insert a thin tube with an attached camera down your throat to get a better look at your digestive tract.

In other cases, your doctor may conduct:

  • A pH probe test to check your stomach acid levels
  • An esophageal manometry to gauge how well the muscles in your esophagus are functioning
  • An X-ray so they can get a full view of your digestive tract

Signs of Complications

Symptoms of GERD can be painful. They can make sleeping very difficult due to intense burning in the chest, regurgitation, or even choking at night. In some cases, these symptoms can be more than just a nuisance—they can actually be dangerous.

For instance, long-term exposure to stomach acid can cause damage to your esophageal lining and alter the cells in your esophagus, a condition referred to as Barrett’s esophagus. Barrett’s esophagus may increase your risk of developing esophageal cancer.

So, if you’re asking yourself, “Is acid reflux dangerous?” just know that it certainly can be. While occasional acid reflux or heartburn symptoms are generally harmless, frequent symptoms can be detrimental to your health and overall well-being. If you experience heartburn all the time or persistent acid reflux, watch out for these signs, as they may indicate that you’re dealing with a more serious problem:

Abdominal Pain

If you find that your frequent acid reflux and heartburn symptoms are accompanied by severe abdominal pain, then it’s possible that you’re suffering from gastritis. Gastritis describes various unique conditions, with the common denominator between them being an inflammation of the stomach lining.

Difficulty Swallowing

Have you been experiencing acid reflux and heartburn symptoms, and now find it difficult or painful to swallow? If so, this could be a sign of esophagitis. Esophagitis is an inflammation of the esophageal tissue that can damage the esophageal lining if left untreated.

Nausea or Vomiting

It’s not uncommon for GERD to cause nausea in sufferers, but if you experience consistent nausea or vomiting in addition to other symptoms, then you should seek medical treatment right away. Nausea and vomiting may indicate the presence of a hiatal hernia or esophagitis.

Tooth Erosion

Persistent acid reflux can cause bad breath and tooth erosion. This occurs when your stomach’s acidic contents reflux into your esophagus and make their way into your mouth. Stomach acid tends to have a sour, unpleasant smell, which can cause bad breath.

More importantly, if the stomach acid reaches your mouth, it can cause permanent damage to your tooth enamel over time. You’re especially at risk at night, when you’re lying flat and your body’s production of saliva, which typically protects your tooth enamel, has slowed.

Severe Chest Pain

Severe chest pain or sudden, sharp pressure can be a sign of a heart attack. If you experience severe chest pain in addition to nausea, difficulty breathing, or jaw, neck, or back pain, call emergency services immediately.

Treatment for Frequent Heartburn

Woman taking GERD medication

Luckily, you have options when it comes to treatment for frequent heartburn and acid reflux symptoms. Here are some treatment options that address the causes of frequent heartburn:

Dietary Changes

In many cases, acid reflux and heartburn are either caused or exacerbated by diet. Certain foods can exaggerate your GERD symptoms and cause irritation. Some products that are known to cause acid reflux flare-ups in some people include:

  • Fried food
  • Fast food
  • Spicy foods
  • Highly-processed snacks
  • Carbonated beverages (such as soda)
  • Pepper
  • Fatty meats
  • Cheese
  • Tomato-based sauces
  • Citrus fruits
  • Chocolate
  • Peppermint

Medications and PPIs

There are a variety of over-the-counter medications out there that often prove effective in reducing symptoms of heartburn and acid reflux. Some of these acid reflux medications include:

  • Antacids such as Tums and Rolaids can neutralize stomach acid and provide quick relief from GERD symptoms.
  • H2 receptor blockers like famotidine don’t act as quickly as antacids, but may be able to provide more relief in the long-term by reducing stomach acid production.
  • Proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) reduce stomach acid production and are generally stronger than H2 receptor blockers, which means they can allow your esophagus more time to heal.

When using these over-the-counter medications, it’s important to follow the instructions on the label. Prolonged use of any of these medications may cause damage in the long-term. If you’ve been taking one of these over-the-counter medications for the suggested period of time and haven’t experienced significant relief, then it may be time to speak with your doctor about prescription-strength medications or other forms of treatment.

Sleep on an Incline

Sleeping on an incline is an easy and natural way to help prevent stomach acid from seeping into your esophagus. Why is sleeping on an incline so effective? Gravity and anatomy. By keeping your esophagus above your stomach, gravity keeps your stomach acid where it belongs.

If you’re searching for nighttime acid reflux relief, then consider the MedCline Reflux Relief System. This is a specially-designed GERD pillow that elevates your body and keeps you in the doctor-recommended position for nighttime acid reflux relief.

The MedCline Reflux Relief System has helped many patients naturally relieve their nighttime GERD symptoms, including heartburn, regurgitation, chronic cough, and nasal congestion. In fact, 95% of MedCline users report getting a better night’s sleep using this pillow. Protect your esophagus and get a good night’s sleep when you use this comfortable three-part sleeping system.

Quit Smoking

If you’re a smoker, then you’re at an increased risk for GERD. That’s because smoking can relax the muscles of your LES and aggravate acid reflux symptoms. Thus, quitting smoking can be one natural way to reduce acid reflux and heartburn symptoms.

Woman at her virtual doctor appointment

When to See Your Doctor

While sometimes acid reflux and heartburn can be treated at home, other times you may need help from a medical professional to find long-term relief. You may want to schedule an appointment with your doctor if:

  • You experience GERD symptoms, such as heartburn and acid reflux, on a regular basis
  • Your GERD symptoms are so severe that they’re interfering with your quality of life
  • Over-the-counter medications haven’t been effective in reducing symptoms

When you meet with your doctor, they will ask you a series of questions about your symptoms and conduct a physical exam. If they end up diagnosing you with GERD, then they will advise you on the best course of treatment. In severe cases, your doctor may suggest GERD surgery to prevent further damage to your esophagus.

Wrapping Up

If you’ve been experiencing heartburn all the time, then you should take steps to find relief. Frequent heartburn can be a sign of acid reflux disease, or GERD, which can be dangerous if left untreated. It can cause permanent damage to your esophagus and lead to other health complications.

So take action and protect yourself from long-term acid exposure. Implement dietary changes, try over-the-counter medications, and quit smoking. Also, for nighttime acid reflux relief, use MedCline’s Reflux Relief System to sleep on an incline throughout the night. It can help keep stomach acid out of your esophagus during the night, providing you with comfort and peace of mind at the same time.

Don’t wait to make a change—take action today and explore your options when it comes to heartburn and acid reflux relief. Speak with your doctor about putting together a treatment plan that will put a rest to your symptoms once and for all.

References:

  1. “Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD).” Mayo Clinic, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 22 May 2020, www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/gerd/symptoms-causes/syc-20361940.
  2. Gupta, Ekta. “GERD Diet: Foods That Help with Acid Reflux (Heartburn).” Johns Hopkins Medicine, The Johns Hopkins University, www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/wellness-and-prevention/gerd-diet-foods-that-help-with-acid-reflux-heartburn.
  3. “Six Signs Your Heartburn Could Be Something More Serious.” Gastroenterology Consultants of San Antonio, 12 Nov. 2019, www.gastroconsa.com/six-signs-your-heartburn-could-be-something-more-serious/.