Heartburn is the most common symptom of GERD. Typically it is thought of as a burning feeling, starting in the upper abdomen and progressing upward into the chest, usually under the breastbone. Others may have a feeling of burning that is accompanied by a pressure sensation in the chest. Some even describe indigestion. Often, even in the same sentence, patients will interchange the terms heartburn and chest pain, actually having trouble describing exactly what they are feeling. These symptoms and their descriptions can be similar to what patients feel when they are having pain due to heart disease or even a heart attack.
Heartburn is what happens when the valve separating the stomach from the esophagus, the lower esophageal sphincter (LES), stops working. The stomach lining is very “tough” and is meant to withstand the acid it normally contains. However, when reflux (or back up of the stomach contents) occurs, the acid coming in contact with the lining of the esophagus causes irritation. This irritation can be thought of as a burn, similar to a burn of the skin. This causes the pain and burning that is described as “heartburn.” Although heartburn usually means GERD, it must be differentiated from the symptoms due to heart disease. Testing for GERD, as well as heart disease, may be required to sort this out.
Along with heartburn, the other “typical” GERD symptoms are regurgitation and swallowing difficulty, also called dysphagia. Regurgitation is an acid reflux symptom where bitter stomach juice refluxes into the back of the throat without warning. This tends to occur at night, with a person waking up with bitter material in the back of the throat, accompanied by a choking sensation. It is quite a miserable experience and is very specific for acid reflux. It can occur during the day as well, even when just bending over. Dysphagia is one of the GERD symptoms that must be evaluated quickly. It usually represents some damage to the esophagus from long-standing reflux. However, it can also represent something quite serious such as a narrowing of the esophagus from reflux or even an esophageal cancer.
GERD can also cause other symptoms that we term “atypical.” These can include chronic cough, sore throat, throat clearing, voice fatigue, worsening of preexisting asthma, dental disease and others. These atypical symptoms can be difficult to recognize as being caused by GERD.
The expert testing available through the Heartburn Solutions Center at Emory Decatur Hospital and Emory Hillandale accurately evaluates these symptoms to determine if they are caused by GERD. Once the determination is made that you have symptoms of GERD, treatment options are offered.
Get relief NOW! Click on the button below to find out if you have heartburn, or call our Heartburn Solutions Center in Atlanta at 404.501.RFLX (7359) for more information about your individual GERD and heartburn symptoms. We’re here to help.