When Should You Become Concerned About Acid Reflux?

In the United States, approximately 20% of people suffer from gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Also known as acid reflux, this condition occurs when the acid in your stomach travels back up the esophagus. This can cause burning in the chest, nausea, or regurgitation.

Unfortunately, many people who struggle with acid reflux have not been diagnosed, as per The Endoscopy Center of St. Thomas, and will often dismiss their symptoms as the results of what they ate and opt for over-the-counter treatments instead of seeing a doctor. However, if left untreated, acid reflux can be serious and lead to ulcers and, in some cases, even esophageal cancer. While it may be enough to manage your condition with some simple lifestyle changes, there are cases of acid reflux where surgical intervention may be necessary, explains the experts at Mayo Clinic.

Look carefully at what your symptoms are telling you

If you are able to manage your acid reflux symptoms with lifestyle changes or over-the-counter medications, or they just don't affect you very often, then you should not need to see a doctor, according to The Endoscopy Center of St. Thomas. The key causes for concern are symptoms that last longer than two weeks, symptoms that impact your sleep, or if you find that your daily life is being impacted by your acid reflux.

When experiencing chest pain from acid reflux, your first instinct might be that you're having a heart attack (via Cleveland Clinic). However, there are differences between the two conditions that can help put your mind at ease. If you are experiencing chest pain that also shows up in the arms, neck, and jaw, as well as dizziness, sweating, and shortness of breath, then you should seek medical treatment immediately, as these are signs that you may be experiencing a heart attack.

When left untreated, as per the Gastroenterology Consultants of San Antonio, acid reflux can lead to a serious condition known as Barrett's esophagus, in which damaged esophageal cells begin to change and potentially lead to esophageal cancer. With that in mind, you should also be on the lookout for very drastic symptoms, such as vomiting blood or having bloody or black bowel movements (via WebMD). However, even seemingly innocuous symptoms, such as chronic hoarseness, a persistent cough, or wheezing, can be a reason to visit your doctor.