When symptoms that seem like heartburn persist, it could be a disease with more serious consequences.
Heartburn symptoms can range from stomach pain to acid reflux to difficulty swallowing.
“Heartburn means the burning or the pain that one may feel when acid is exposed to the esophagus,” said Fairfax, Virginia, gastroenterologist Dr. Richard Allen Blosser.
But if symptoms continue and get worse, they could be due to gastroesophageal reflux disease.
“GERD can be a broad spectrum of diseases anywhere from a cough to post nasal drip to swallowing disorders to esophageal strictures,” said Blosser, who sees multiple cases every year.
If left untreated, GERD can be dangerous.
“GERD can permanently damage the esophagus,” Blosser said.
It got so bad for northern Virginia resident Tom Gullette, he sometimes missed work and was barely able to eat anything. He lost almost 50 pounds.
“Sometimes it just would become a continuous strong burning that would last for days,” he said.
A specialist finally put him on Prilosec, but the effects didn’t last.
“Eating smaller, more frequent meals, limiting alcohol, limiting tobacco use, consuming smaller meals are OK for short order, and may be very good for the upcoming week, but in the long term don't seem to work,” Blosser said.
If over the counter or prescription medicines aren't working, Stretta is one option.
The Stretta device is a balloon inserted in the esophagus with a catheter and inflated. It plants needles into a valve called the lower esophageal sphincter. Heating it up causes remodeling of the valve, which allows the esophagus to relax and close more effectively. It takes about one hour, and patients can usually resume activities within a day.
Gullette has been symptom-free since Blosser performed his procedure in 2015.
Another procedure is known as TIF -- Transoral Incisionless Fundoplication. The procedure doesn’t require external incisions through the skin.