The 4 signs your ‘normal’ heartburn could be serious

HEARTBURN is something that afflicts millions of Brits every day.

It happens when the muscle that allows food to flow from the oesophagus to the stomach doesn’t work as it should.

Heartburn can be a sign of a serious underlying health condition that needs to be investigated

Stomach acid manages to seep through into the oesophagus, where it irritates.

Thankfully, heartburn is usually harmless and will disappear within a few hours – causing nothing more than a painful sensation.

It’s usually the result of eating certain foods or simply overeating.

But sometimes, it can indicate something more serious that needs to be investigated by a doctor.

What could severe heartburn mean?

1. Cancer

More specifically, cancer of the larynx and oesophagus.

When stomach acid flows back to the oesophagus, it can cause tissue damage that can lead to the development of oesophageal adenocarcinoma.

According to Linas Venclauskas, a bariatric surgeon at Nordbariatric Clinic, despite heartburn not being directly life-threatening, it can significantly impair a person’s quality of life.

He said: “If not treated, it may lead to Barrett’s oesophagus, a precancerous disease affecting the lining of the oesophagus.

“Persistent peptic oesophagitis may cause scarring in the oesophagus, and therefore food has difficulties getting into the stomach.

“For this reason, people complain of constant chest pains or discomfort in the chest region and epigastric area when eating.”

Also known as cancer of the food pipe, oesophageal cancer is diagnosed around 9,200 times and is the cause of 7,900 deaths every year in the UK.

2. Heart attack

Heart attacks can easily be mistaken for heartburn.

According to Harvard Health, both conditions can cause chest pains.

The general rule is if you aren’t sure what you’re experiencing, it’s always worth seeking help, the NHS says.

The most common symptoms of heart trouble include tightness, pain, a rapid heartbeat, clammy skin, indigestion and nausea.

The main symptoms of heartburn include a burning chest pain, a bitter taste, pain that’s worse when you lie down, and pain moving to your throat after a large or spicy meal.

3. Hiatus hernia

This is when part of the stomach squeezes up into the lower chest through an opening (hiatus) in the diaphragm.

The condition is usually found during a test to determine the cause of the heartburn or chest pain.

It is quite common in people over 50 and doesn’t normally need treatment if not too severe.

But if it is being accompanied by regular heartburn, then it might need to be dealt with through an operation or medication.

If it’s left untreated, persistent heartburn can cause long-term damage to the oesophagus, which can increase the risk of oesophageal cancer.

4. Peptic ulcer disease

This happens when acid in the digestive tract eats away at the inner surface of the stomach or small intestine.

The acid can create a painful open sore that may bleed.

People with this condition can often mistake it for heartburn.

The symptoms are similar, but a symptom of the disease is heartburn.

Other symptoms include nausea, vomiting, burning pain and discoloured stool due to bleeding.

While in most cases it won’t be too serious, with a doctor prescribing medications to relieve the symptoms and help the ulcer heal, in rare cases they can prove an emergency.

5. Lung problems

Stomach acid can get into your lungs, causing various potential respiratory issues, according to medical centre Gastroenterology Consultants of San Antonio.

The buildup of acid can cause irritation or inflammation of the vocal cords or a sore throat, which could trigger harmless things like coughing, congestion and hoarseness, it says on their website.

But if the acid is inhaled into the lungs, it can lead to more serious conditions like asthma, laryngitis, pneumonia or wheezing.

When to see a doctor…

NHS have warned of these eight signs that mean you should contact your doctor:

  • Your heartburn won’t go away.
  • Your heartburn symptoms become more severe or frequent.
  • It’s hard or hurts to swallow.
  • Your heartburn causes you to vomit.
  • You have had unexpected weight loss.
  • You take over-the-counter antacids for more than two weeks and still have heartburn symptoms.
  • You have heartburn symptoms even after taking prescription medicines.
  • You have serious hoarseness or wheezing


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